Faith Organizations: Urge ICE to end the detention of pregnant women

April X, 2018

Thomas D. Homan
Deputy Director and Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Director
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
500 12th St. SW
Washington, D.C. 20536

Dear Deputy Director Homan:

As XX number of faith-based organizations and XX faith leaders we are writing to express our outrage and shock at the directive issued by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on March 29, 2018, eliminating the presumption that ICE should not detain pregnant women except in extraordinary circumstances and removing various reporting requirements regarding the treatment of pregnant women in detention. Our sacred scriptures remind us time and again those who are vulnerable and “the least of these” deserve our caring, our time, and our energy. We are deeply troubled by this policy change, which endangers the lives of pregnant women, subjecting them to harmful and prolonged periods of detention. Pregnant women should not be detained absent extraordinary circumstances. Together, we urge ICE to recognize the inherent value of every human and restore its August 2016 Memorandum on the Identification and Monitoring of Pregnant Detainees with the presumption of release.

We also believe it is essential that pregnant women be able to access critical health services and are acutely concerned that the health and safety of mother and baby are threatened by the conditions and stresses of unnecessary detention. The immigration detention system has been proven over and over again to be incapable of handling the needs of vulnerable populations, including and especially those with serious medical needs. Not only does this new ICE directive risk the health and safety of pregnant women, it removes critical reporting requirements for oversight of the detention system. For example, it removes all requirements for ICE to regularly re-evaluate pregnant women’s detention status. The ICE detention system needs more, not less, transparency and accountability.

These facilities were never designed to care for the specific needs of pregnant women and their detention has led to a severe health crisis – one that could have been avoided. A significant number of complaints have been filed with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and Office of Inspector General (OIG) that detail a number of instances in which due to inadequate access to care women have suffered miscarriages. DHS Inspector General has said that the conditions in detention facilities “undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.” Still more cases show that women in detention do not have access to prenatal care or information on nursing and infant care. This change in policy will only lead to greater incidents of inadequate access to care that result in more senseless trauma for mothers, their babies and their families.

As people of faith we watch in disgust as women are again and again denied care for basic medical services and are stripped of even their basic human dignities. We believe that our Creator God gives each life value and purpose, regardless of immigration status, nationality, or creed.

- In July 2017, a 31-year old asylum seeker was arrested and placed in immigration detention. She was four months pregnant. After her arrest, she began to experience severe pain and bleeding. Despite the emergency nature of her medical needs, she reports that her pleas for assistance were ignored. Instead, she was transferred from a Border Patrol holding facility to an ICE detention center in southern California. She miscarried there.
- In March 2017, a 23 year-old asylum seeker was detained at a U.S. port of entry. She was 12 weeks pregnant. She remained in ICE custody for three months, during which time she was transferred between facilities six times. At one point, she was made to endure a 23-hour round trip between facilities in New Mexico and Texas, which resulted in her hospitalization due to exhaustion and dehydration. She experienced nausea, vomiting, weakness, headaches, and abdominal pain during her detention. She did not receive sufficient prenatal vitamins or adequate medical attention, and when she requested a first floor dormitory area so that she would not have to climb the stairs repeatedly, her request was denied. After repeated requests that ICE ignored, she was finally released at the end of May 2017.
- In April 2017, a 31-year old woman was detained in Tacoma, Washington after she appeared for an appointment with ICE. At the time, she was four weeks pregnant. While in detention, she experienced great anxiety and depression, after being told by ICE officials that she would be deported immediately. After three weeks of detention, she began bleeding early one morning and sought medical attention, but had to wait over an hour to be seen by a physician. Detention officers did not immediately respond to her requests for help even though she was bleeding profusely. Eventually she was taken to a local hospital, where a physician informed her that she had miscarried.

We are not alone in our denunciation of the practice of detaining pregnant women and depriving them from the care they should receive. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the Mount Sinai Human Rights Program, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) have all stated their opposition by enumerating the significant physical and mental toll that imprisonment has on the health and safety of women and babies. These medical experts state: "All pregnant women and adolescents held in federal custody, regardless of immigration status, should have access to adequate, timely, evidence-based, and comprehensive health care. Pregnant immigrant women and adolescents should have access to high levels of care, care that is not available in these facilities."

In the interest of upholding the human rights and dignity of this vulnerable population, we call on ICE to immediately restore the presumption of release to detention for pregnant women. Additionally, we urge ICE to develop compassionate systems to ensure that pregnant individuals are able to access quality healthcare and are not placed in positions of undue stress – including detention and shackling. DHS and ICE should institute stringent oversight practices to ensure the health and safety of pregnant women; comply with the Government Accountability Office’s investigation and audit of the conditions for pregnant women in prisons and detention centers; and investigate and rectify any complaint received that details mistreatment of individuals in detention facilities.

We see this great human rights crisis unfolding in front of our eyes and are deeply saddened. We pray as new policies are developed they are compassionate and thoughtful, respect the dignity of all people, and take into account each person’s unique value and worth. Please end this inhumane process.



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