A pregnant woman weeks shy of giving birth is currently being held in a Texas detention center, a situation that appears to violate government policy. Advocates and at least two U.S. senators say they are deeply concerned about her plight.
The woman arrived in the United States on July 24 of this year, along with her husband and three children, according to Katy Murdza, advocacy director of the Dilley Pro Bono Project, which is representing her. The family came from Mexico seeking asylum. They were initially put in Customs and Border Protection custody. Then the father was sent to one ICE detention facility, and the mother and three children—all under age 12—were sent to the Dilley family detention center in Texas.
After arriving at the detention center on July 27, the woman––whose name is being withheld because of her tenuous immigration status––had troubling symptoms, including fatigue, insomnia, and abdominal pain. And, for the first time in her pregnancy, she began having serious vaginal bleeding. Her baby is due to be born on Sept. 19, putting her almost halfway through the third trimester of her pregnancy.
Before the Trump administration, ICE had a policy––one it sometimes violated––against detaining pregnant women. In March of this year, the Trump administration announced that the policy had changed, and that pregnant women would not automatically be released from ICE custody. But in that announcement, the agency said that “Generally, absent extraordinary circumstances, ICE will not detain a pregnant alien during the third trimester of pregnancy.”
A spokesperson for ICE, which won’t comment on specific cases, noted that the verbiage of its policy was “not absolute” and left room for exceptions.
Murdza said advocates are particularly troubled by a sign on the main entrance to the facility that says pregnant women should stay out because of the presence of chicken pox. Pregnant women who work for the private prison company that manages the facility are entitled to be transferred elsewhere, according to the sign.
“She’s worried about what would happen if she went into labor here,” Murdza said. “We’re an hour and 15 minutes from San Antonio. That’s where the closest major hospital is.”
The woman has received prenatal vitamins but no ultrasound, Murdza said. There is a doctor at the facility, but no ob-gyn.
This case appears to violate the new ICE policy. And it isn’t isolated. Murdza said that in the last 30 days, her organization has seen four pregnant women, including this one, kept in detention after entering their third trimester.
While the new policy also stresses that only pregnant women “whose detention is necessary to effectuate removal, as well as those deemed a flight risk or danger to the community" would be detained, Murda said her group recently saw a 13-year-old girl in the second trimester of her pregnancy held at the same facility. She and her mother were released before the girl reached the third trimester, but advocates were stunned she was ever detained in the first place.
Murdza said other women with high-risk pregnancies have also been held at the facility, including a woman whose doctor warned her against pregnancy because of her pre-eclampsia. Another pregnant woman in detention had previously miscarried because of depression, and feared miscarrying again.
Advocates believe pregnant women who are detained are more likely to miscarry or experience other adverse health consequences. And Democratic senators have been pushing for an end to the practices of detaining and shackling pregnant women. One of them, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, told The Daily Beast in a statement that the practice is deeply troubling.
“We should be doing everything we can to make sure pregnant women in our country are able to get the care they need to have a healthy pregnancy—not needlessly detaining them, shackling them, and denying them health care—but under the Trump Administration’s new policies we’re hearing reports of more and more pregnant women suffering in detention,” she said. “It’s heartless and dangerous and it has to stop.”
And Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat, indicated this means Department of Homeland Security leadership haven’t been honest with Congress about immigrant detention.
“Sen. Harris has made clear she fundamentally disagrees with the detention of pregnant women and is extremely concerned about reports of miscarriages and a lack of care in facilities,” said a Harris spokesperson in a statement. “This report of a woman detained in her third trimester is deeply disturbing and would mean DHS officials including Nielsen have misled Congress in their testimony.”