Biden administration reverses a Trump policy and orders ICE to stop arresting pregnant women or nursing migrant mothers at the border
- New directive reverses 2017 memo which removed ‘presumption of release’
- It directs immigration officers not to detain pregnant or nursing women unless there are ‘exceptional circumstances’
- The Trump directive triggered a surge in the number of pregnant women held
- And advocacy groups cited cases of miscarriage as they campaigned for an end to the practice
The Biden administration on Friday told immigration officers not to detain pregnant and nursing mothers, reversing a Trump-era directive that removed protections and allowed officials to jail thousands of such women.
The new policy goes further than Obama-era guidelines, which exempted pregnant mothers only.
And it adds to an expanding series of protections for immigrants accused of violating civil immigration laws.
Tae Johnson, acting director of U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (I.C.E.), said: ‘I.C.E. is committed to safeguarding the integrity of our immigration system and preserving the health and safety of pregnant, postpartum and nursing individuals.
‘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.
‘This reflects our commitment to treat all individuals with respect and dignity while still enforcing our nation’s laws.’
Five-months pregnant Mayra Culio is helped from an inflatable raft after crossing the Rio Grande river in Roma, Texas, in this file photo from March. The Biden administration announced on Friday it would stop detaining migrants facing deportation if they are pregnant or recently gave birth in a reversal of a Trump-era policy
The directive follows other moves by the Biden administration to reverse
This chart shows how 2021 border crossings – pictured in blue – rocketed on crossings made in 2020, represented by the brown line (2018 is pictured in gray, with 2019 in orange)
The new policy reverses 2017 rules that removed the presumption of release for pregnant aliens, instead setting out a case-by-case policy.
Pregnant women could be detained if they represented a flight risk or a danger to the community, among other factors.
The number of pregnant women detained increased by almost 50 percent from Obama’s final year in office, reaching 2094 in 2018.
Advocates for immigrants have warned frequently of the dangers of detaining pregnant women and condemned the Trump policy.
The American Immigration Council welcomed the move.
‘This memo is long overdue,’ it said.
‘In 2017, we filed a complaint on behalf of numerous people who were pregnant and detained by I.C.E.
‘Several told us the stress of detention, combined with the lack of medical care provided by ICE, caused them to miscarry.’
And Kamala Harris was among senators who raised the issue of pregnant detainees with I.C.E. after Trump’s changes had taken effect.
Seven states with Republican governors, North Dakota South Dakota, Florida, Arkansas, Ohio, Iowa and Nebraska are sending law enforcement and National Guard members to help secure the southern border
Their letter cited the case of a Honduran woman who arrived in the U.S. seeking asylum from gang violence and sexual abuse.
‘After reportedly alerting ICE officials of her pregnancy, and informing them that she was “bleeding and needed immediate medical attention,” she expected to receive medical care,’ they wrote.
‘Instead, she was detained, and reportedly did not receive medical care for 48 hours. Several days later, she had a miscarriage.’
The new orders require I.C.E. officers to obtain authorization before detaining anyone who is pregnant or nursing and that permission would be granted in only extreme circumstances.
They also largely ban the use of restraints on pregnant women in an I.C.E. facility unless they present an immediate threat to themselves or others.
Although the new policy will affect only a few hundred immigrants, it could trigger a backlash among conservatives who may see it as relaxing controls on migrants trying to get into the country to deliver babies with the guarantee of birthright citizenship.
Earlier this year, the Biden administration ended family detention.