The number of women who've had miscarriages while in US Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) custody nearly doubled following the Trump administration allowing the indiscriminate detention of pregnant people, according to government records reviewed by the Daily Beast.
The report follows news that an undocumented 24-year-old woman from Honduras gave birth to a stillborn boy while in ICE custody. The agency says the unidentified woman was 27 weeks pregnant when she went into labor and that the stillbirth would not be classified as an in-custody death.
According to the Daily Beast, between October 2016 and September 2017, a total of 10 migrant women began experiencing a miscarriage while in ICE custody or right before being detained. In late 2017, President Donald Trump reversed an Obama-era rule which until then directed ICE not to detain pregnant women except in extraordinary circumstances. Under these new conditions, the number of women who've experienced a miscarriage increased to a total of 18 as of August 2018. This figure is only based on ICE data and does not take into account cases of migrant women experiencing miscarriages or stillbirths while in custody of US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).
The Obama administration implemented the policy of not detaining pregnant people in an effort to prioritise their health care needs. But the so-called pro-life Trump administration chose instead to put migrant women in custody unless they are in their third trimester. Reports have found that even at that point in pregnancy, migrant women have been detained — and regardless of how far along they are, they've faced abuses such as being shackled around the stomach during transport, denied medical care after an accident, and ignored when requesting prenatal vitamins.
Katharina Obser, senior policy of migrant rights and justice at the Women's Refugee Commission, told Refinery29 that advocates have been concerned about the treatment and detention of pregnant women in ICE detention facilities for a long time. "These are not appropriate conditions for pregnant women," she told Refinery29. "[These centres are] already a punitive and inappropriate place for the populations who are being detained there, let alone for someone with the specific medical needs that a pregnant women might have."
Obser said that while immigration detention centres are meant to be part of a civil, not criminal, detention system they are in essence jails. She added that reports of inadequate health care, overcrowding, medical neglect, and other issues can make it an unsafe place for someone who is pregnant. "They are also located in very remote areas, which leads to concerns over medical care because it means someone needs to be transferred to a hospital that might be far away, she added. "It also makes it difficult for people to find a lawyer,"Without a lawyer, it's nearly impossible for someone to pursue their immigration case." The latter adds to the stress of being detained, which is inevitably harmful for pregnant women, Obser said.
In September 2017, the Women's Refugee Commission and several other organisations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a complaint with Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE and CBP, outlining concerns about the detention of pregnant women. The message then and now was clear: Immigrants should not be in immigration custody while pregnant. "The administration have many other options for anyone in detention: They can use case management, if they need support, or they can be released to their families as their pursue their immigration cases," she said. "That the administration is [detaining people] at these unprecedented rates and has gone so far as to reverse prior policy that favoured the release of pregnant women, makes it clear this is about deterring people from coming into the US. This is not about the wellbeing of the pregnant women in their custody."