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Pregnant Women Seeking Asylum Detained, Women Miscarried in ICE Facilities

An article by The Nation (October 12, 2017) investigates the stories of asylum seekers detained while pregnant by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Nation reports that women have been denied medical care, leading to health complications including miscarriages.

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In September, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Women’s Refugee Commission filed a complaint that ICE has detained pregnant women against its own policy. In August 2016, the acting director of the agency Thomas Homan issued a memorandum stating that “pregnant women will generally not be detained” except under “extraordinary circumstances or the requirement of mandatory detention.” Despite this policy, the complaint filed by the ACLU and Women’s Refugee Commission cites 292 pregnant women were detained in the first four months of 2017, a notable 35 percent increase from the same period last year.

The article details the case of Jennye Pagoada López, who states she was denied medical care during detention and suffered a miscarriage after six days. The Department of Homeland Security has yet to respond to the complaint filed on behalf Pagoada and nine other women, six of whom were detained in privately run detention facilities in Texas.

The filed complaint includes the testimonies of five women who were detained at the South Texas Family Residential Center (STFRC) in Dilley, Texas, a family detention center operated by CoreCivic (formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America or CCA), and one woman detained at Joe Corley Detention Facility in Conroe, Texas operated by GEO Group.

Ana, a 28-year-old woman from Honduras, wrote when she was in STFRC:

It is very difficult for me to be detained here with my son while I am pregnant. It is hard for me to get around because I am not feeling well and my son is too heavy for me to carry. I feel that I need to be living where my family can assist me. I am very concerned about the health of my baby because there are a lot of people here and many viruses, including the flu and diarrhea. Being detained and preparing for a credible fear [interview] has also been very stressful for me, which I feel is dangerous for my baby. In order to prepare for my credible fear interview with a CARA [the pro bono legal service organization at STRFC] legal assistant, I have had to discuss my history of sexual abuse and domestic violence in detail.

Katy Murdza of the CARA Pro Bono Project has worked at the Dilley family detention center for four months. According to her interview with The Nation, until recently most pregnant women were released from the border to live with family or friends before appearing before an immigration judge at a later date. The article details numerous stresses that pregnant women in detention face, as women are “fleeing torture, abuse, or rape (and in some cases learn in detention that their rape resulted in pregnancy); some are trying to care for their children who are also struggling with detention and recent trauma; some have miscarried in the past because of stress or depression, and now fear a repeat due to their current circumstances; and there is little rest, since detainees are sharing rooms with so many people, many of whom are sick.”

The Nation reports that according to an ICE spokesperson, the August 2016 memorandum remains current policy, meaning that pregnant women will not be detained barring “extraordinary circumstances.” Given changes in enforcement priorities under the Trump Administration, however, advocates see that pregnant women remain unprotected according to current practice.

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