U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcemen (ICE) will no longer detain most pregnant, nursing and postpartum women for deportation. The policy released on Friday represents a change from the Donald Trump administration that permitted officials to put in prison immigrants in those circumstances.
As stated on the ICE website, the change in policy is in the interest of preserving the health and safety of pregnant women and fostering bonding with the children once they are born.
“ICE is committed to safeguarding the integrity of our immigration system and preserving the health and safety of pregnant, postpartum, and nursing individuals,” acting ICE director Tae Johnson said in a statement.
“Given the unique needs of this population, we will not detain individuals known to be pregnant, postpartum, or nursing unless release is prohibited by law or exceptional circumstances exist,” Johnson added.
According to a Maria Sachetti´s report from the Washington Post, the agency administers pregnancy tests to female detainees after they are taken into custody as part of its regular health screenings, and some discover that they are pregnant after the test. In those cases, the policy says, ICE should “generally” release them from custody.
However, there are certain exceptions. Pregnant and postpartum women may still be detained in “very limited circumstances,” the policy said, when the woman “poses an imminent risk of death, violence, or physical harm” or is a national security concern. A field office director must approve the arrest and detention and ensure that the women receive medical care.
The policy revokes a 2017 Trump administration directive that “ended the presumption of release for all pregnant detainees.” ICE detained nearly 2,100 pregnant women the following year, a 52 percent jump over the last calendar year of the Obama administration, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
Most pregnant women detained in recent years have been apprehended after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border seeking refuge in the United States, according to the GAO. Most did not have prior criminal records.
Advocates for immigrants counter that detaining pregnant and postpartum women endangers their physical and mental health. Some women were raped as they fled to the United States. Others complained of inadequate health care in detention.
The new directive does not limit the “temporary placements” of pregnant women in “family staging centers” in South Texas, where several hundred pregnant women traveling with children have passed through this fiscal year, according to ICE data.