Federal Agency Director Admits to Interfering in Immigrants’ Reproductive Health Choices

The director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement confirmed reports that he has visited pregnant minors in his custody to persuade them to carry unwanted pregnancies.

When asked by EWTN if he would try to convince pregnant teens in his custody to "choose life," Lloyd first said his goal is to make sure kids in ORR custody "have everything they need and know they have everything they need." He's willing, he added, to "deliver that message in person" when necessary. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Read more of our coverage of Jane Doe’s case here.

The head of the federal agency charged with caring for unaccompanied immigrant minors has confirmed that he tries to persuade pregnant girls not to seek abortion care.

While testifying at a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee hearing on Thursday, Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) Director Scott Lloyd refused to answer questions about whether he visited pregnant minors in custody to persuade them to carry unwanted pregnancies. But one day later, Lloyd confirmed the reports in an exclusive interview with Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), a Catholic television network.

Lloyd told the network that a “tiny minority” of those in ORR custody are pregnant. The agency lost its fight to keep Jane Doea teen whose abortion care was delayed for weeks because of court proceedingsfrom making her own reproductive health-care decisions.

When asked by EWTN if he would try to convince pregnant teens in his custody to “choose life,” Lloyd first said his goal is to make sure kids in ORR custody “have everything they need and know they have everything they need.” He’s willing, he added, to “deliver that message in person” when necessary.

When pushed about whether he has told pregnant minors in ORR custody to “choose life as opposed to abortion,” Lloyd said, “I’ve presented options to a few folks who were pregnant, and I wanted them to know that we were there to help them with their situation, and we wanted them to know as fully as they could what was available to them.”

EWTN also asked Lloyd about his “pro-life” views and extensive writing on abortion. As Rewire reported, Lloyd wrote in a series of 2011 opinion pieces that “contraceptives are the cause of abortion,” that using contraception was akin to having an abortion, and that women should have to ask a man’s permission before having an abortion.

In one 2011 post, Lloyd praised anti-choice tactics such as fake clinics, commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers: religiously-affiliated groups that counsel pregnant people against having abortions. Jane Doe was forced to visit one of these clinics after she made it clear she wanted to have an abortion, and so are other teens in ORR custody. Many of the clinics on an “approved list” by ORR are fake clinics.

“To the extent that it’s possible, wherever it’s possible, we need to do everything that we can to protect the dignity of human life, from conception to natural death,” Lloyd told EWTN.

It appears, however, that Lloyd’s concern for the “dignity of human life” only extends to unwanted pregnancies, and not to children in his care. It did not extend far enough for Rosa Maria Hernandez, a 10-year-old undocumented child with cerebral palsy who has lived in the United States with her family since she was three months old.

While being transported by ambulance to a Texas hospital last week for gall bladder surgery, Hernandez had to pass a Border Patrol checkpoint. The child was accompanied by her 34-year-old cousin, Aurora Cantu, who is a U.S. citizen. Both were asked for their “papers.”

“Although Ms. Cantu explained that they were on their way to a surgical appointment, provided documentation to that effect, and explained that Rosa Maria (as a 10 year old child) did not carry identification documents, the Border Patrol agents had the ambulance pull over and detained Rosa Maria and Ms. Cantu for half an hour,” according to the ACLU.

Border Patrol sent multiple vehicles to escort Hernandez to the hospital, and stayed outside her room until she was discharged. Border Patrol refused to allow the child to be returned to her parents in Laredo. Instead, she was referred to ORR and has been placed in a shelter without her parents. In a media call Friday, Leticia Gonzalez, the family’s attorney, said the shelter is ill-equipped to provide Hernandez the daily specialized care and consistent home therapy she requires.

The ACLU announced today that if Hernandez is not released from custody by 3:00 p.m., ORR will face a lawsuit.

In its letter to the federal government, addressed to Lloyd and other officials, the ACLU stated that ORR is violating Hernandez’s “statutory and constitutional rights.” Border Patrol agents followed the child’s every move during the course of her hospital stay and told Cantu her 10-year-old cousin had two options: Hernandez’s mother could agree to her immediate return to Mexico through “voluntary departure,” or the 10-year-old would be arrested and held in a detention center.

Border Patrol agents did not have a warrant when they removed the child from her hospital bed and took custody of her, transferring her to Baptist Children’s Home Ministries, one of the many religious organizations paid by the federal government to care for children in ORR custody and which often refuse to provide access to certain kinds of medical care based on religious beliefs.

“Forcibly separating Rosa Maria from her family inflicts serious psychological and emotional injury on her and on her entire family— as would the sudden and forcible removal of any young child from a stable and loving family environment,” the ACLU’s letter said. “The toll on her family has been severe. Since her arrest last Tuesday, her mother has not been able provide her with care, feed her, or hold her. She stays up each night, nervous and distraught about her daughter’s future. Rosa Maria’s sisters are also suffering. One of her sisters calls out for her in the middle of the night while she sleeps. Rosa Maria’s arrest, transfer, and detention have been a nightmare for her family.”

Lloyd has yet to comment on Hernandez’s case.