Congress Needs to Step Up and Defund ICE’s Barbaric Abuses Against Pregnant Women

Why would we fund these egregious practices?

[Photo: A pregnant person holds her stomach in an asylum]
Back in March, internal documents revealed the Trump administration’s cruel policy change, which it had cowardly implemented in December 2017, revoking the presumption of release for detained pregnant immigrants. Loren Elliot/AFP/Getty Images

Among the recent news about our nation’s immigration policies, one practice has barely received attention—the handling of pregnant immigrants. Given the inhumane treatment of families fleeing violence and life-threatening circumstances at our borders, it should come as little surprise that pregnant migrants are also experiencing abhorrent treatment by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS): detainment in conditions that pose dangerous health risks.

In response, Sen. Patty Murray, along with 23 co-sponsors as of publication, introduced the Stop Shackling and Detaining Pregnant Women Act in the U.S. Senate. The legislation would release pregnant women from detention and ban the use of shackles or restraints during labor, transport, and delivery.

As Congress debates DHS funding for the fiscal year ending September 2019, the federal agency’s barbaric policy against pregnant women should be at the forefront of the conversation.

Back in March, internal documents revealed the Trump administration’s cruel policy change, which it had cowardly implemented in December 2017, revoking the presumption of release for detained pregnant immigrants. In doing so, the administration advanced its goal of increasing the immigrant population in detention. The policy change also removed critical language on reporting requirements for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials and their treatment of pregnant women, including weekly evaluations of whether the continued detainment of a pregnant woman was necessary or adequate.

The current policy gives ICE officials the authority to freely detain pregnant individuals and determine their release on a case-by-case basis. Given ICE’s record of not releasing other immigrant populations, we can expect them to also keep pregnant women indefinitely detained. We at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) believe this policy change was made to boost private prison company profits and to meet the goals of an anti-immigrant agenda.

While we know that even under previous guidance ICE was still detaining pregnant individuals, this change—in combination with other recent detention and deportation policies—means that more women, pregnant or not, will be placed in ICE custody. Women in detention—like other vulnerable populations, including LGBTQ people—experience a serious lack of access to reproductive health care, including access to emergency contraception, abortion, and dignified pregnancy care. Some have even miscarried on ICE’s watch. Despite ICE’s claims to provide “comprehensive medical care” to those in its custody, recent news reports indicate that, while detained under the Trump administration, pregnant women are being denied medical care, shackled around the stomach, and are suffering other abuses.

The substandard care that pregnant women receive in detention is not only threatening to their health, but also causes unnecessary harm to their pregnancies. In making this policy change, the Trump administration has chosen to completely ignore the significant risks that detention poses to pregnant women. Immigration facilities are plagued with pervasive levels of sexual violence and human and civil rights abuses, all of which pose serious risk to the health and safety of those in the U.S. government’s custody. For pregnant women, the anxiety and trauma caused by detention is compounded by the dangerously subpar access to critical medical care, as well as separation from their children, families, communities, and culturally sensitive health-care providers. This policy change is further proof of the cruelty with which the Trump administration treats our nation’s immigrant communities.

All people have the fundamental right to make the best decisions for their health, body, and family with dignity and self-determination. Detention centers, by their very nature, are not spaces where dignity and self-determination are possible. If we want this barbaric practice to end, we must abolish ICE and the institutions that are perpetuating unjust practices. Efforts to abolish ICE seek to overhaul the system in the long run, which endangers the lives of our community members held in these facilities, and in the interim we demand ICE adopt a presumption of release for pregnant detainees.

Congress should pass the Stop Shackling and Detaining Pregnant Women Act and vote against the upcoming DHS spending bill that funds these egregious practices.

NLIRH will continue to fight until all people can live free from persecution, and without fear of detainment and family separation. We believe that our vision for the future is possible, and we will keep fighting until we make it a reality.