The Trump administration has stopped automatically releasing all pregnant immigrants from detention, Immigration and Customs Enforcement documents revealed Thursday.
Previously, ICE would try to release all pregnant women from its detention centers, except in the case of “extraordinary circumstances.” Now, however, ICE will evaluate whether to release each pregnant woman on a “case-by-case custody determination taking special factors into account,” according to a FAQ shared by ICE.
Katie Shepherd, who serves as national advocacy counsel for the American Immigration Council’s Immigration Justice Campaign, called the move “inhumane and barbaric.”
“This is a population that requires, by definition, access to specialized care which we know anecdotally and through substantial evidence in circulation that they are not receiving in privatized detention centers in the United States,” Shepherd told VICE News. “Not only does it have serious health implications for the mother and her unborn child, it really jeopardizes the woman’s ability to access due process and obtain a meaningful day in court.”
The American Immigration Council is one of several organizations that sent a complaint to the Department of Homeland Security in September 2017 about ICE’s treatment of pregnant immigrants. Despite its pledge to try to release pregnant women, ICE often failed to do so, the complaint alleged. Those detained women also received inadequate medical care: Officials frequently ignored women’s requests for medical attention or delayed fulfilling such requests, “even during health emergencies involving severe bleeding and pain,” according to the complaint. Some women were even reportedly forced to give birth while in shackles.
Though it only announced its policy change Thursday, ICE actually stopped automatically releasing pregnant women in December 2017, CNN reported. Since then, it has detained 506 pregnant women; as of March 20, 35 were in ICE detention.
According an ICE memo, the agency’s policy shifted in order to “better align” with a January 2017 executive order by President Donald Trump that aimed to strengthen enforcement of immigration laws.
This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has dealt with the issue of pregnant immigrants. Four undocumented, pregnant teenagers have also accused the administration of trying to stop them from getting abortions while they were in the federal custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a Department of Health and Human Services agency that handles all minors who enter the United States without authorization and without their parents.
Cover image: NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 11: Hundreds of immigration activists, clergy members and others participate in a protest against President Donald Trump's immigration policies in front of the Federal Building on January 11, 2018 in New York City. As the Trump administration continues to focus their attention on deportations and the building of a new wall along the Mexican and American border, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests are up. From late January through August 2017, arrests by ICE were up more than 43 percent since the same period in 2016. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)