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In ICE detention, pregnant women face stress, trauma, and inadequate care

Rosa is a 23-year-old woman from El Salvador who sought asylum in the U.S. last year. Rosa – a pseudonym to protect her identity – was terrorized by daily threats from gangs, and fled gang violence to seek safety in a new land. Despite telling border officials she was pregnant, Rosa was detained in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. She was transferred between facilities no fewer than six times. On one of those transfers, a 23-hour trip, she had extremely restricted access to food and restrooms. Rosa experienced vomiting, weakness, headaches and pain, and yet was denied adequate medical attention. As a result, she was later hospitalized for exhaustion and dehydration. It was only because her pregnancy became high-risk, and because of numerous requests for release, that ICE finally released Rosa to a migrant shelter. She had been detained for 12 weeks.

In this time of heightened political division, Rosa’s story is a reminder that there are still some issues that can unite all Americans. For example, everyone should be able to agree on the importance of providing dignity and comfort to pregnant women. That is why the two of us are so concerned about ICE’s detention of pregnant immigrant women. As described in a complaint filed in September on behalf of several women who are or were pregnant in ICE custody, it appeared that the agency had become less willing to release pregnant women from custody to sponsors in the community or into detention alternatives, such as migrant shelters, once their pregnancy was identified. ICE has now confirmed our suspicions by announcing it has ended its policy of presumptive release for pregnant women in detention. Instead, the agency is pursuing a dangerous practice of detaining pregnant women in inhumane facilities.

{mosads}Except in extraordinary circumstances, it is gravely irresponsible for ICE to detain pregnant women in civil proceedings. Many of these mothers-to-be have come to America to escape poverty, violence, and even death in their homelands. In detention facilities, they often experience stress, trauma, and inadequate medical care, which can endanger them and their unborn child.

No pregnant woman should have to endure this terrible treatment, or be forced into excruciating fear of how detention will impact her and her unborn child’s health. Nor should she have to fear for the health of her pregnancy – yet, tragically, there were at least three confirmed miscarriages in detention in fiscal year 2017, and more have been reported.

We recently led 68 of our colleagues in sending a letter to then-Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke expressing our concerns about the increased rates of detention of pregnant immigrant women across the U.S., and asking for clarification of ICE’s current policies on detaining pregnant immigrant women.

Also, as co-chairs of the Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform, we held a forum to shed further light on the experiences of immigrant women who have been detained under the Trump administration. What we heard was profoundly troubling.

For example, Izabel Solis, a U.S. citizen, reported on the suffering her sister experienced when she was detained by ICE while pregnant. In addition to being torn apart from her small children and family, who were shocked by her sudden apprehension, Izabel’s sister also received inadequate medical care and poor treatment.

Additionally, an attorney working at the southern U.S. border told us about the impossible obstacles her clients face in seeking asylum and protection while in U.S. detention. We also heard from the Women’s Refugee Commission, whose recent report, “Prison for Survivors,” found that not only are more women being detained than ever before, but also that treatment and conditions in detention ignore women’s needs and impede access to protection.

It is clear to us that America needs a far more humane and just immigration detention system. That is why we joined with our colleague Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) to introduce and co-sponsor the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act. Our bill would release detained pregnant women, and other people who have good cause to be released, including, if needed, into community-based detention alternatives. This bill also restores meaningful oversight, transparency and accountability to our detention system.

We will not stand idly by as the negative effects of this administration’s detention policies on pregnant immigrant women continue to unfold. We will continue to fight for the health and dignity of all the detained pregnant women who, out of fear and desperation, have come to America. In keeping with our American values, they deserve humane treatment and compassion.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard represents California’s 40th District, and is the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.  Rep. Pramila Jayapal, an immigrant and the first Indian American woman in the House of Representatives, represents Washington’s 7th District.  Both are the co-chairs of the Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform.

Tags Adam Smith Elaine Duke Homeland security ICE Lucille Roybal-Allard Pramila Jayapal

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