Immigration and Customs Enforcement will no longer detain most migrant women who are pregnant, postpartum, or nursing for deportation. This reverses the policy previously put in place by the Trump administration.
Under the new directive, ICE officials generally will not detain or arrest women who are pregnant or nursing, or who have given birth within the previous year. In a July 1 memo signed by ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson, ICE officers are directed to house women in “an appropriate facility to manage their care.”
The memo goes on to state that “generally ICE should not detain, arrest, or take into custody for an administrative violation of the immigration laws individuals known to be pregnant, post partum, or nursing unless release is prohibited by law or exceptional circumstances exist.”
In addition, ICE is also required to evaluate those individuals who are already in custody “to determine if continued detention is appropriate.”
During the Obama administration, pregnant women were generally not detained except under extraordinary circumstances. However, these policies were reversed after Donald Trump took office, and there was an 80% increase in the number of times ICE detained pregnant women in the year that followed implementation of the new directive – from 1,160 in 2017 to 2,097 in 2018.
The new guidance now goes even further than the directive issued under President Obama as it also includes women who are nursing and the 1-year postpartum period. This policy stems from the Biden-Harris administration’s plan to reform the immigration system, part of which was to create a more humane asylum system.
In a statement released early in February 2021, the White House stated that the “Trump administration’s policies at the border have caused chaos, cruelty, and confusion,” and that they will now “begin to roll back the most damaging policies adopted by the prior administration, while taking effective action to manage migration across the region.” After migrant women are taken into custody, pregnancy tests are administered as part of regular health screenings. If women are found to be pregnant, the new ICE policy states that they “generally” should be released from detention.
However, there will still be circumstances when pregnant and postpartum women may be detained, such as when there is a high risk that the individual is violent or a national security concern. In these cases, a field office director must approve the arrest and detention as well as making sure that the women receive appropriate medical care.
“The harmful consequences of immigration detention have been documented for years,” said Rebekah Wolf, JD, staff attorney with the American Immigration Council. “Our 2017 joint complaint urging a thorough investigation into the increasing numbers of pregnant women facing harm in detention, illustrated the disturbing practice of detaining pregnant women and the lack of quality medical care provided to these women.”
She added that the “federal government should not be in the business of detaining pregnant or nursing individuals, and it’s good to see the Biden administration directing ICE to finally take meaningful steps to limit enforcement activities in this manner. We are hopeful that this announcement is an indication of a broader shift on detention policy.”
There are currently 13 pregnant women in ICE custody, and they are being considered for release under the new policy.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.