The number of times federal immigration authorities detained pregnant migrant women jumped 80% the year after President Donald Trump’s administration ended a policy against detaining pregnant migrants, according to a new government watchdog report.
The report by the Government Accountability Office was conducted at the request of Democratic members of Congress after complaints that pregnant women detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were denied required medical care and detention facilities were often not equipped to provide that care.
The report substantiates some of those complaints.
It comes after a 24-year-old Honduran woman in ICE custody went into premature labor and delivered a stillborn baby in February 2019 at an immigration detention center in Texas.
The report found that ICE detained pregnant women more than 4,600 times between 2016 and 2018.
During that period, the number of times ICE detained pregnant women decreased 16% from 1,380 in 2016 to 1,160 in 2017.
The decrease came after then acting ICE director Thomas Homan in April 2016, under President Barack Obama’s administration, issued a memo to field office directors discouraging the detention of pregnant women except in extraordinary circumstances.
In December 2017, the Trump administration rescinded that policy as part of efforts to detain and deport all undocumented immigrants.
In 2018, the year after the policy ended, the number of times ICE detained pregnant women increased to 2,097 from 1,160 in 2017, the GAO report shows. That was an 80% increase.
The report also found that 22% of the 4,600 detentions of pregnant women took place at facilities not staffed by ICE medical personnel.
Compliance with standards for providing medical care to pregnant women varied among facilities, the report said, and while a review of ICE inspections found compliance of 79% or higher, deficiencies exist.
For example, 9% of inspections showed pregnant woman were not seen by an obstetrician-gynecologist within 30 days of pregnancy confirmation, from December 2016 through March 2019. Some facilities did not have policies requiring them to provide prenatal vitamins, the report found.
ICE officials told federal inspectors they are working to correct the deficiencies uncovered in the report.
According to the report, 68% of pregnant women were detained for 7 days or less. However, 22% were detained from 8 to 30 days, and 10% were detained for 30 days or longer.
One pregnant women was detained from 181 days to 270 days and another from 271 days to 334 days.
The report showed that from January 2015 to July 2018, 58 pregnant women in ICE custody had miscarriages, two had abortions and one gave birth.
Of 1,450 pregnant women detained by ICE for which gestation data was available, about half were in their first trimester when they entered detention facilities. Forty-one percent were in their second trimester and 10% were in their third trimester, the report showed.
Rep. Raul Grijlava, D-Ariz., said the report shows that pregnant women should not be held in immigration detention facilities, pointing out that between 91% and 97% don’t have criminal records.
“With many facilities lacking the full spectrum of care that pregnant women require, it is unconscionable to keep them incarcerated and subjected to extreme stress and trauma,” Grijalva said in a written statement. “It’s clear DHS does not have uniform, adequate policies to protect and provide for pregnant women in detention and that this population would be much better served in community-based alternatives to detention.”
Grijlava accused the Trump administration of endangering pregnant women by implementing policies that have increased the number of pregnant women who are detained.
“Make no mistake, this is a vulnerable population that needs access to the highest quality of care — not a dangerous population that deserves to be demonized,” Grijalva said.
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