Until December, it was the policy of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release pregnant women who were detained, except in very specific cases. The guidelines were enacted during former president Barack Obama’s last year in office, when his administration recognized that holding expectant mothers in detention centers — where medical care is often subpar or absent — was unwarranted and cruel.
It was a short-lived victory. First, some ICE agents ignored the new rules. Now, after the change of power in Washington, the new administration simply rescinded them.
Last fall, after an increase in the reported cases of pregnant women still kept in detention, 10 women filed a complaint accusing the federal government of failing to abide by its own policy. The Trump administration responded by ditching the Obama-era guidelines.
The move puts pregnant women in danger for no good reason. Consider the case of Jacinta Morales, who was detained a year ago in Tacoma, Wash., after she showed up for a check-in appointment with ICE. She was four weeks pregnant then. In detention, officers told her she’d be deported soon. Morales started feeling anxiety, pain, and nausea, until one day she began bleeding heavily. She asked for medical attention; hours later, she was taken to the hospital, where a doctor told her she had miscarried.
In the last year, at least five pregnant women had miscarriages while in ICE custody. One was held in detention for six months into her pregnancy. Many of these migrant women end up pregnant because their smugglers rape them as they’re trying to make their way to the US-Mexico border. ICE detention centers, infamous for their inhumane conditions, are no place for women who are expecting. (Last year was the deadliest since 2009 for ICE detainees: 12 of them died in custody.) A recent report from the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security documented unsafe and unhealthy detention conditions.
The Trump administration now says that detention for pregnant migrants will be handled on a case-by-case basis. Since December, ICE has held roughly 500 pregnant immigrants in detention. Most are no longer in custody, but ICE hasn’t revealed how many were deported or released. As of mid-March, ICE was holding 35 pregnant women in detention centers.
Pregnant women could easily be outfitted with GPS-enabled ankle bracelets, which are far cheaper, instead of being subject to harrowing conditions in detention centers. Last week, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to ICE, demanding to know why the agency changed its detention policy toward pregnant migrants.
Immigration authorities owe all detainees humane treatment. As a matter of basic decency, ICE should revert to its former policy of automatic release for pregnant women.