Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) shared news of a new policy directive regarding pregnant detained immigrant women on a call with reporters Thursday. The new policy, which was released in December 2017, supersedes a 2015 memo on the matter. According to ICE, they did not share news about the change earlier because they were focused on implementation.
In a statement provided by ICE to media, the agency stated the following:
“To better align with the President’s Executive Order, ICE has ended the presumption of release for all pregnant detainees. Instead, as with all detainees except those in cases of mandatory detention, ICE will complete a case-by-case custody determination taking any special factors into account. This does not mean that all pregnant aliens will be detained; only those whose detention is necessary to effectuate removal, as well as those deemed a flight risk or danger to the community. Generally, absent extraordinary circumstances, ICE will not detain a pregnant alien during the third trimester of pregnancy. ICE detention facilities will continue to provide onsite prenatal care and education, as well as remote access to specialists for pregnant women who remain in custody.”
Philip Miller, deputy executive associate director at ICE, said that all immigrants who are caught trying to cross the border “illegally” are subject to mandatory detention. If they pass a credible fear interview, discretion may be used but it is not guaranteed.
Throughout the call and in the new directive and FAQs, ICE insisted that they are ending a “presumption of release.” However, the testimony of dozens of women collected in a formal complaint filed against ICE by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the American Immigration Council (AIC), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Women’s Refugee Commission, and other immigration and legal advocacy organizations flies in stark contradiction to this. The women cited in the complaint were detained for several weeks and months. In at least one case, one woman was not released until the seventh month of her pregnancy (when the third trimester of pregnancy starts).
The complaint also sheds light on the conditions pregnant immigrant women are facing in detention centers. Despite being detained in centers hundreds of miles apart, detained women report similar issues: lack of timely and qualitative medical services, treatment by specialized professionals even after severe bleeding, frequent transfers limiting mobility and access to appropriate care, and non-nutritious and limited food options.
In February, Neta spoke with two detained pregnant women, one of whom suffered a miscarriage while detained. Jenneye Pagoada, who arrived at the San Ysidro Port of Entry seeking political asylum in July 2017, was one of the women speaking out on detention conditions. While detained, she suffered from extreme pain and bled profusely. However, she did not receive immediate treatment even after her legal representative provided copies of a pregnancy blood test and ultrasound and requesting to see a doctor. Days later, she was informed she had miscarried by a doctor in the facility.
“The treatment that they provide pregnant women has to be better,” Pagoada told Neta in a previous interview. “If they are going to keep us detained they should at least be able to provide us with the services and treatment we need.”
Miller stated that as of March 20 there were 35 pregnant women in ICE’s custody. A total of 506 pregnant women have been detained since December.
Neta has asked ICE what, if anything, is being done to address the issues which advocates and detained pregnant women have been raising against ICE.
Additionally, although advocates and the September 2017 complaint both noted frequent issues with implementation, the previous policy required ICE to evaluate on a weekly basis whether each pregnant woman’s continued detention was appropriate. We’ve asked ICE to provide clarity on whether or not this will continue to be part of the policy.
We also asked ICE whether it was typical for pregnant women to remain detained after passing a credible fear interview and finding a sponsor. According to Alex Mensing of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, ICE is failing to release some individuals even after these two conditions are met.
“ICE is willfully careless about providing medical attention,” Mensing told Neta in a previous interview. “It’s retaliation by the entire immigration system against people from other places, against brown people, against refugees who are coming to the U.S.”
We will update this story to reflect ICE’s response if one is provided.