Illegal in the Womb

Immigration & Customs Enforcement to detain pregnant women.

President Donald Trump’s hatred for undocumented immigrants has extended to the most innocent members—those who are unborn. According to reports, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is ending its policy of releasing pregnant immigrants from detention centers. Now, pregnant women will be locked away in jail cells waiting and wondering whether they and their unborn children will be victims of deportation and survive incarceration.

This controversial shift in policy is the result of the executive order “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” which instructs ICE to remove all undocumented immigrants from the country. It goes against an Obama-era policy that avoided locking pregnant immigrants up, except under extraordinary circumstances.

According to Philip Miller, deputy executive associate director of ICE, 506 pregnant immigrants have been detained by ICE since the policy was implemented in December.

“Just like there are men who commit heinous acts violent acts, so too have we had women in custody that commit heinous acts,” Miller told reporters from Time.

ICE said that each case will be reviewed individually and that women in their third trimester will generally be released. Despite this, however, many have pointed out that detention poses serious threats to the wellbeing of pregnant women and their unborn children for a variety of reasons.

Detention, by definition, restricts people from access to numerous things—the most important in this case being full health care. Despite ICE’s claims to tend to pregnant women’s needs, the health care that one receives in a detention center is much different and, arguably, much worse than the health care that one would receive outside of a detention center.

In September 2017, a coalition of seven groups, including the ACLU and the Women’s Refugee Commission, filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security regarding the treatment of pregnant immigrants.

In their complaint, the groups addressed a number of discrepancies in ICE’s approach to health care, such as a lack of prenatal care, education, and, perhaps most alarming, a failure to act following the miscarriage of a baby. “In several of the cases, there is concern that women are receiving inadequate and sub-standard medical care during and after miscarriage,” the complaint read.

This matter is heightened when considering the strain that detention puts on women mentally and emotionally. Many who are locked away are awaiting court dates that will determine whether they will be allowed to remain in the U.S. or be forced to return to a country from which they may have fled.

Michelle Brané, the director of the Migrants Rights and Justice program, said in a statement to CNN, “Many women are pregnant as a result of rape and violence that they experienced either on the journey to the U.S. or that may be part of an asylum claim. Detention is especially traumatic for pregnant women and even more so for victims of rape and gender-based violence.”

Furthermore, a great deal of these women have families from whom they are separated during their detentions. This adds to the mental and emotional trauma of not only the woman but also their families.

Fortunately, efforts are being made by a number of individuals to stop ICE from detaining pregnant immigrants.

Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Catherine Cortez Masto, Kamala Harris, and Dick Durbin sent a letter to ICE chief Thomas Homan, requesting that the agency return to the Obama-era policy of not holding pregnant women in custody except under extraordinary circumstances.

“In light of reports that ICE has failed to provide critical medical care to pregnant women in immigration detention—resulting in miscarriages and other negative health outcomes—this policy change is particularly alarming,” the senators wrote. “This new policy jeopardizes the health and wellbeing of an exceptionally vulnerable group of people—many of whom are fleeing sexual and physical violence, or experience it as they travel to the United States.”

The senators have given chief Homan until April 19 to respond to the letter.

Until then, pregnant women will live in fear, wondering if they will lose their unborn children in detention centers because of a president whose goal is to deport them.