Once again President Donald Trump has taken a swing at undocumented immigrants living in the United States. This time he announced that Immigration and Customs Enforcement will no longer automatically release detained pregnant women.
The new policy for automatic deportation or indefinite detention would reverse previous guidelines to release pregnant people unless they pose a security threat.
Huffington Post reports:
Philip Miller, deputy executive associate director for ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations, told reporters on Thursday that many pregnant women encountered by immigration enforcement are already subject to mandatory detention by law, particularly if they were apprehended at the border and are not deemed eligible to move forward with any claims for relief.
Others may be subject to mandatory detention because they committed certain crimes within the US Since the policy went into effect in December, ICE has detained a total of 506 pregnant women, according to ICE, though the agency did not say how many of those women were later deported or released into the US He said that on March 20, the last date for which ICE has the data, there were 35 pregnant women in detention, all of them subject to mandatory detention.
This new rule is a dramatic change from the previous administration, which mandated "presumptive release." According to Pacific Standard:
Under the Obama administration, ICE officers were urged to release pregnant women "absent extraordinary circumstances," under which detention might be necessary. But an internal memo sent by ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan states that custody decisions for pregnant women should now be made on a case-by-case basis. The new directive states that, "absent extraordinary circumstances," pregnant women in their third trimester will still be released.
Pregnant people placed in federal detention centers are often offered inadequate prenatal care, limited access to health care services and poor food and living conditions -- all of which could harm maternal and fetal health. Some centers report pregnant people being forced to wait in lines in 100ºF heat just to obtain prenatal vitamins. And rates of miscarriage are far higher for detainees than the rest of the pregnant population.
Michelle Brané, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program at Women's Refugee Commission, told CNN that the organization condemns this new policy:
The Women's Refugee Commission has long documented the dangerous and unhealthy detention conditions that are especially dangerous and inappropriate for pregnant women. Many women are pregnant as a result of rape and violence that they experienced either on the journey to the US or that may be part of an asylum claim. Detention is especially traumatic for pregnant women and even more so for victims of rape and gender-based violence.
NARAL Pro-Choice America noted the administration's hypocrisy in fighting so furiously for abortion restrictions while putting pregnant people into centers that are likely to harm them and the babies they are carrying.
NARAL Pro-Choice America Vice President for Strategic Communications and Research Adrienne Kimmell explained:
This policy will undoubtedly further jeopardize and health of pregnant women in the ICE's custody, who are already likely facing difficult conditions and need access to health care the most. While the Trump-Pence administration brags about its 'pro-life' credentials, it does not blink an eye when it comes to the lives of our most vulnerable populations.
The American Civil Liberties Union called the new change an assault on a vulnerable population. ACLU senior staff counsel Victoria Lopez said via email statement:
This new policy further exposes the cruelty of Trump's detention and deportation force by endangering the lives of pregnant immigrant women. It removes critical protections for this vulnerable population and eliminates key reporting requirements for oversight of a detention system that needs more, not less, transparency and accountability.
Meanwhile, conservatives lauded the reversal, claiming that the change will make it less likely for undocumented people to birth children in the US and give those babies automatic citizenship. But the so-called "anchor baby" issue is largely myth.
As the Washington Post explained in 2015:
For illegal immigrant parents, being the parent of a US citizen child almost never forms the core of a successful defense in an immigration court. In short, if the undocumented parent of a US-born child is caught in the United States, he or she legally faces the very same risk of deportation as any other immigrant.
The only thing that a so-called anchor baby can do to assist either of their undocumented parents involves such a long game that it's not a practical immigration strategy, said Greg Chen, an immigration law expert and director of The American Immigration Lawyers Association, a trade group that also advocates for immigrant-friendly reforms. That long game is this: If and when a US citizen reaches the age of 21, he or she can then apply for a parent to obtain a visa and green card and eventually enter the United States legally."
The process would require so many steps and take so long that it would be virtually useless as a means of obtaining permanent citizenship.