How Senators are Fighting Against ICE Detention of Expectant Migrants

By: Augusto Vaccaro

Seventy-two hours into her detainment at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility, Carmen Puerto Diaz, a thirty-three year-old woman who was five months into her pregnancy, worried about her baby and herself due to the lack of access to her high-blood pressure medication.  On the fourth day of her detainment, she was able to begin taking her medication once again.  Puerto Diaz claimed that, even though she was given her medicine, she had not yet seen a physician.

An immigrant from Honduras, Puerto Diaz had resided in the United States for nearly 14 years.  After marrying her U.S. citizen husband in 2011, Puerto Diaz and her husband began the legal process to try to secure legal status. Puerto Diaz was then arrested during this interview with immigration authorities and is one of 2,500 pregnant women in the past three years to be arrested by and detained at an ICE facility.  Danielle Bennett, an ICE spokeswoman, states that all individuals receive medical examinations within twelve hours of their detainment at the facility, that each facility has emergency care, and that ICE spends nearly $250 million annually on detainee health care.  Yet, nearly 28 pregnant women detained by ICE miscarried in 2017 and 2018.

On January 25th, 2017, President Donald Trump published Executive Order 13768 titled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.”  The purpose of this executive order was to further enforce the nation’s immigration laws in order to ensure the safety of the public of the United States.  In the executive order, the President specifically outlined how immigration laws cannot be faithfully executed if the United States allowed the exemption of certain classes or categories of removable aliens from enforcement. President Trump then directed all executive departments and agencies to “employ all lawful means to enforce the immigration laws of the United States.”

After the implementation of Executive Order 13768, ICE introduced a new policy which “ended the presumption of release for all pregnant detainees.”  Under the current policy of ICE, pregnant migrants are addressed on a “case-by-case” custody determination.  The policy states that ICE detention facilities will “continue to provide onsite prenatal care and education, as well as remote access to specialists for women who remain in custody.”  Furthermore, ICE will continue to provide comprehensive counseling, postpartum follow-up, and in certain cases, abortion services.

Prior to this new policy, the general practice was to release pregnant women from detention. After being released from their detention at the ICE facility, these women were then given orders to appear before an immigration judge at a later date.  The previous policy would only allow the detention of pregnant women if it was mandatory under law or under extraordinary circumstances.

In February, a Honduran woman delivered a stillborn baby in an ICE facility.  After this incident, over a dozen senators, some of them presidential hopefuls, called on immigration facilities to restore presumptive release for pregnant women.  As the number of miscarriages in ICE facilities continue to increase, senators have sent letters to ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), stating that without any “compelling evidence that the detention of a pregnant woman is necessary because she is a threat to herself or others, or is a threat to public safety or national security,” that the detainment of the expectant mother is never justified.

Tales of inadequate medical services, women being shackled around the stomach, and other physical and psychological mistreatment by ICE and CBP agents, senators are looking to take action.  Senators call on these immigration facilities, which they believe are not equipped to handle the medical, mental health, and nutritional needs of pregnant women, to ensure appropriate treatment of pregnant women in custody.  Furthermore, these senators are asking for documentation and information regarding pregnant immigrant women detained at ICE and CBP facilities since 2017.

These senators are taking the first step to challenge what appears to be a startling trend.  With increasing rates of miscarriages in ICE facilities over the past two fiscal years, not listening to the silent cries of these pregnant women is no longer a possibility.  These senators have asserted their position; until the reversal of ICE’s decision and the reinstatement of presumptive release for pregnant women, and CBP assuring timely and appropriate treatment of pregnant women in its custody, they will not stand down.


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