Officers of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) received a memo from President Joe Biden Friday discouraging them against detaining pregnant or nursing mothers, reversing the order of the Trump administration in 2017.
Acting ICE Director Tae D. Johnson said that Biden's memo is a reflection of the immigration agency's commitment to enforcing the laws while treating "all individuals with respect and dignity." The order acknowledges that pregnant or nursing mothers have unique needs and should only be arrested, detained, or kept in custody under exceptional circumstances.
Before Biden's memo, Johnson gave ICE agents new guidelines that reversed President Donald Trump's orders. The director informed the detention officers that they should focus on accosting immigrants with criminal convictions or threaten the nation's security.
Releasing Pregnant or Nursing Mothers
The new guidelines also direct the ICE to release any woman heavy with a child or currently postpartum at its detention facilities, except where the limitations apply. Reports cited that there are currently 13 pregnant women at the holding centers meant for migrant families and their children.
Effective immediately, ICE officials should also seek supervisory approval before detaining a pregnant or nursing mother who could potentially be a national security threat or bring "imminent risk of death, violence, or physical harm" to the community. If the woman has been determined as a threat, the ICE should provide them with proper medical and mental health services, including prenatal or post-natal care. The order also discourages the use of physical restraints against women.
The policy also includes allowing women in custody to take a pregnancy test during regular health screenings. If a woman is pregnant based on the test, she will be qualified for release following prenatal care. However, the guidelines don't expound on the deportation of these women.
A More Humane Treatment
Records from the Government Accountability Project showed that the ICE had detained nearly 4,000 pregnant mothers since 2017. However, there were still other facilities that avoided the policy issued during the previous administration.
In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and seven other advocacy groups for immigrants filed complaints against the ICE after ten women came forward and described their conditions while in custody. They said they experienced physical abuse and a lack of prenatal care. Some of the complainants suffered miscarriages while they were detained.
The ACLU said at that time that ICE does not have the capacity to take care of pregnant and nursing mothers. Thus, their detention is a cruel act that puts their life, as well as their baby's life, at great risk.
Today, ACLU's National Prison Project welcomed the action of ICE under the Biden administration. Eunice Cho, the union's senior staff attorney, said that this is a step forward for the ICE staff to practice more humane treatment. Joe Loweree of the American Immigration Council also noted that this decision is a meaningful step towards a potential shift in the detention policy.
The advocates, however, continue to call for a "robust oversight" of the ICE detention facilities.
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