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ICE Says Detained Woman's Stillbirth 'Not Considered an In-Custody Death'

A 24-year-old Honduran woman in ICE custody went into premature labor last week, delivering a baby doctors pronounced dead moments later.

by Marie Solis
Feb 26 2019, 5:38pm

Miquel Llonch/Stocksy

A 24-year-old woman in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody gave birth to a stillborn baby last week after going into premature labor in a South Texas detention center.

The birth occurred just four days after the woman, a Honduran migrant, was arrested and detained by border officers near Hidalgo, Texas. At the time of her arrest, she'd been six months pregnant, according to a Monday joint statement from ICE and Customs and Border Patrol.

ICE and CBP officials say they took the woman to a hospital where she was "cleared for release" on Thursday after undergoing two medical screenings. The next day, she was reportedly transferred from Border Patrol to ICE custody, where she was supposed to be processed for release from detention. Later that night, according to the statement, ICE Health Service Corps doctors recommended she be admitted to the hospital after examining her following complaints of abdominal pain. She then gave birth to an unresponsive baby doctors declared dead at a Texas medical center.

In their Monday statement, officials said that while they consider the stillbirth a "tragic event," it doesn't count as an "in-custody death," according to their reporting and investigation requirements.

ICE did not immediately respond to Broadly's request for comment.

Immigrant rights activists are condemning the agency for keeping pregnant women in custody at all, a policy that changed under President Donald Trump.

“A woman losing her child is yet another horrific example of DHS’s inability to treat migrants with the dignity and respect they deserve,” Erika Andiola, the advocacy chief at Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, told The Washington Post. “Pregnant migrant women should not be locked up. Keeping them in jail is a Trump administration policy. It’s inhumane, and we can’t let it stand.”

The Trump administration altered the policy in May, rolling back an Obama-era rule that mandated pregnant migrant women be released from federal custody in most cases. Though the policy change, which took effect in December, didn't dictate that pregnant women must necessarily be detained, an ICE official clarified that it meant the end of the "presumption of release for all pregnant detainees."

“We’re no longer exempting any individual from being subject to the law," ICE Deputy Executive Associate Director Philip Miller told the Post at the time.

Lawmakers and advocates have called for defunding and investigating ICE as the Trump administration's increasingly stringent immigration policies appear to have resulted in part in the deaths of roughly two dozen immigrants since January 2017.

Last month, an NBC analysis of every detainee death since DHS's founding in 2003 found that 22 immigrants had died in ICE detention over the past two years. The data, NBC noted, didn't include the death of 20-month-old Mariee Juárez, who died in March, or the deaths of seven-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin and eight-year-old Felpe Alonzo-Gomez, who both died in December. The report also would not have included the death of a 45-year-old Mexican migrant who died in Border Patrol custody earlier this month.

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“It’s heart breaking," Victoria Lopez, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project, told Broadly of last week's stillbirth.

"There's been longstanding structural issues with ICE detention for years," she continued. "Given the recent deaths in ICE and CBP custody and the way people are being treated, it continues to raise more red flags about how the agency is conducting itself and how they're reporting and being held accountable."