THIS PAST SEPTEMBER, a group of seven advocacy organizations filed a complaint against Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The allegations it outlined were disturbing: that ICE had been “failing to abide by its own policies” by keeping pregnant women locked up in notoriously nasty facilities when they should have been released on parole, putting their health at serious risk.
The complaint, which was authored by organizations such as the ACLU, the American Immigration Council, and the Women’s Refugee Commission, listed 10 anonymized women who said they experienced astonishing neglect while pregnant in ICE detention. One of the women claimed that ICE gave her only ibuprofen for the debilitating pain and bleeding she suffered after miscarrying four months into her pregnancy. Another experienced deteriorating mental health during her six months in detention while carrying her rapist’s baby. Another woman, detained by ICE at 12 weeks pregnant, was transferred between detention facilities no fewer than six times in three months—including a 23-hour round trip by bus, after which she had to be hospitalized for exhaustion and dehydration.
Press coverage and additional reports from advocacy organizations further documented the seemingly routine mistreatment of pregnant women in ICE’s care. For example, a woman in Tacoma, Washington, reportedly bled for over an hour while waiting for medical attention in an ICE detention center, eventually miscarrying. A report by the Women’s Refugee Commission claimed that ICE detention was so unbearable for some pregnant asylum-seekers that they eventually decided to give up their asylum cases and accept deportation for fear of losing their babies.
In response to the complaint, ICE repeatedly suggested that everything was normal. Despite reports that the agency had detained 35 percent more pregnant women during the first four months of 2017 than in the first four months of 2016, and despite questions surrounding the 535 pregnant women ICE detained in fiscal year 2017, ICE spokespeople assured reporters and advocates that officers were still following guidelines set in place in an August 2016 memo, which instructed them to deny parole to pregnant women only “under extreme circumstances.”
Just last week, however, ICE announced a change to those guidelines: In terms of release on parole, pregnant women are now going to be treated just like any other ICE detainee. The change was initially finalized in a memo written by acting ICE director Thomas Homan back in December, but it took ICE more than three months to send it to Congress and release it to the public.
ICE detention was so unbearable for some pregnant asylum-seekers that they eventually decided to give up their asylum cases and accept deportation for fear of losing their babies.
This news should be of no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the plight of immigrants over the past year. Since Trump issued his notorious immigration executive orders the week after his inauguration, which instructed enforcement agencies to, among other things, “ensure the detention of aliens apprehended for violations of immigration law,” ICE has been operating with the tunnel-visioned approach of locking up as many people as it possibly can.