As many as 28 women in Immigrations and Customs Enforcement custody have had miscarriages in the past two years, according to a new report from the agency: Ten of them in fiscal year 2017, and another 18 in fiscal year 2018.
The findings arrive on the heels of a Honduran woman's stillbirth last month, which occurred after she went into premature labor in a South Texas detention center. The woman, 24, had been arrested and detained by Customs and Border Patrol and transferred into ICE custody. She was six months pregnant.
In a statement last month, ICE officials said that, while the stillbirth was a "tragic event," the birth of her unresponsive baby—later declared dead at a Texas medical center—didn't count as an "in-custody death" because of reporting and investigation standards.
Similarly, an ICE spokesperson told Broadly on Tuesday that officials collected the data by manually reviewing medical records, as it does not collect information about in-custody miscarriages for "statistical reporting purposes."
The agency added that it can't report the cause of each miscarriage, or even necessarily when it took place, due to the "myriad reasons why miscarriages occur."
These include, but are "not limited to genetic problems with the fetus, problems with the uterus or cervix, chronic diseases, or external factors such as physical trauma," read a statement provided to Broadly by an ICE spokesperson. "Generally, with limited insight into a pregnant detainee’s medical history, ICE is unable to determine what caused a given miscarriage, and cannot confirm whether a miscarriage began before or after an individual entered ICE custody."
Immigrant rights advocates are disturbed by the statistic, which The Daily Beast reported has nearly doubled under President Donald Trump.
"This increase is not entirely surprising, given the change in policy and the administration’s stated position to expand immigration detention," Victoria Lopez, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project, told Broadly on Tuesday. "Given the multitude of problems with ICE detention already and the serious health risks that pregnant women face, the agency should take immediate steps to ensure that pregnant women are expeditiously released from detention."
In May 2017, the Trump administration changed ICE's policy on detaining pregnant women, rolling back an Obama-era guidance that called for their presumptive release. Now, pregnant migrants no longer receive any special consideration, though ICE officials say they still make determinations regarding their detention on a "case-by-case basis" and maintain that all pregnant women in custody have access to pre- and post-natal care.
Such statements, however, run up against the accounts of pregnant women who told BuzzFeed News in July that Customs and Border Patrol officials and staff in ICE detention centers neglected and abused them.
“An official arrived, and they said it was not a hospital and they weren’t doctors. They wouldn’t look after me,” an asylum seeker, identified as "E.," told the outlet at the time, recounting her experience miscarrying her son four months into her pregnancy. “I realized I was losing my son. It was his life that I was bleeding out."
According to an ICE spokesperson, the agency had 60 pregnant detainees in its custody as of August 31, 2018, but took 1,655 into custody between October 1, 2017 and that date, a number that also appears to have risen over the past few years: ICE reportedly had 559 pregnant women in custody between 2012 and 2014.
“All people deserve respect and access to health care—regardless of their immigration status," Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen told Broadly in a statement. "Yet the Trump-Pence administration is putting pregnant immigrant women’s health and lives at risk.
"Our government must ensure the health and safety of those in its custody and be held accountable," she continued. "We cannot let this administration’s zeal for harsh immigration enforcement continue to harm people’s health and lives.”