More Pregnant Immigrants Are Being Detained Under the Trump Administration

Supermajority Education Fund

December 20, 2019

A recent Government Accountability Office report found that not only has the number of pregnant women jailed for immigration violations risen 52 percent since President Donald Trump assumed office, but that they are also being held for longer periods than the Obama administration; In 2016, ICE jailed 92 pregnant women for over 15 days, and in 2018, ICE held 615 pregnant women for over 15 days.

After a 2016 ICE memo advised that pregnant women should usually be released, the population of pregnant detainees declined. Then, in December 2017, ICE acting director Tomas Homan issued another directive which “ended the presumption of release for all pregnant detainees.” Under his guidance, the number of detained pregnant women increased again in the following years.

The number of pregnant women held in ICE custody who have had miscarriages has also increased according to The Daily Beast’s reporting. Their review of ICE-conducted medical records between October 2016 and September 2017 revealed that while ten women had miscarriages before being placed in ICE custody or while there, 18 women had miscarriages in the following year. The Department of Homeland Security doesn’t count stillbirths as in-custody deaths and places them in the same category as miscarriages the agency told the Washington Post this year.

Ann Marie Benitez, senior director of government relations at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), told Supermajority News that immigration centers are “toxic for everyone” due to rampant human rights abuses and that NLIRH believes in community-based alternatives to detention centers. But pregnant people face specific harms to their health in detention, she said, including being denied access to prenatal care, neglected while in labor, and denied medication for life-threatening conditions like preeclampsia.

“The Trump administration has chosen to completely ignore the significant risks that detention poses to pregnant people, including the anxiety caused by being detained. This trauma is compounded by the lack of access to critical medical care, as well as the additional stress pregnant people face from being separated from their children, families, and communities,” she said. “The inadequate care that pregnant people receive in detention not only threatens their physical and emotional health, it results in unnecessary harm to their pregnancies.”

Media attention on pregnant women in ICE custody ramped up earlier this year after a woman held in a Texas detention center went into premature labor and delivered a stillborn baby. In response, lawmakers and advocacy organizations called for ICE to stop detaining pregnant women. 


Days after reports of the woman’s delivery of a stillborn in a detention center, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) reintroduced the Stop Shackling and Detaining Pregnant Women Act, which would reinstate presumption of release of pregnant women from detention centers and “prohibit shackling, restraining, and other inhumane treatment of pregnant detainees.” The first version of the legislation was introduced in 2018. The legislation hasn’t moved in the Senate since March. The House bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security in July.