Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have decided that they have no problem detaining pregnant women in immigration jails—a major shift in the agency’s stated policies.
ICE is justifying the change by claiming that a January 2017 executive order from President Donald Trump requires stricter enforcement policies, according to internal communications issued on Thursday and reviewed by The Daily Beast and others.
Multiple Obama-era ICE directives—the latest of which was issued in 2016— prohibited detaining pregnant women unless there were “extraordinary circumstances or the requirement of mandatory detention.”
“We are no longer exempting any individual from being subject to the law,” Philip Miller, deputy executive associate director of ICE, said during a conference call with reporters on Thursday. He said the policy change has been in the works since December 2017.
Dr. Ada Rivera, the director of medical services for the agency, said all women between the ages of 10 and 56 already receive a urine pregnancy test as part of the intake process. She said the agency was prepared to provide all women with prenatal care.
Miller said that, since December 14, 2017, 506 pregnant women have come into ICE custody, and that, as of March 20th, ICE had 35 pregnant women in custody. He said ICE does not detain women in the third trimester because they are not considered flight risks.
Immigrant rights advocates have noted that even before this shift, ICE was incarcerating pregnant women way too often. In October 2017 for instance, ICE reported it had detained 525 pregnant women in the last year. Some of these women had been forced to give birth while shackled to hospital beds.
Today’s new policy announcement suggests that, inevitably, more pregnant women will have to go through this.
Immigrant rights advocates also question the care ICE can provide to pregnant detainees who are already under a great deal of stress.
“This is concerning to us because we’ve seen how problematic conditions can be in custody for anyone, but especially for pregnant women,” Michelle Brané, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program with the Women’s Refugee Commission, told Splinter.
ICE maintains that detention facilities will provide onsite prenatal care and education, as well as remote access to specialists for pregnant women who remain in custody.
Brané’s organization, along with the ACLU, sent a complaint in 2017 to the Department of Homeland Security on behalf 10 pregnant women in ICE custody. Brané said pregnant detainees complained about inadequate medical care and highly limited access to fresh fruits. There have also been reports of women suffering miscarriages in detention.
“I mean, I’ve been pregnant twice, and I would go insane [in detention],” Brané told Splinter.
Update, 3:37 PM: This post was updated with information from a conference call ICE held with reporters as well as interviews with immigration advocates.