I realized I was losing my son. It was his life that I was bleeding out."
The detention and mistreatment of pregnant migrant women has increased under President Donald Trump's administration through the reversal of Obama-era policies.
Buzzfeed News reported on Monday that a number of pregnant migrant women in detention say they have been denied medical care, shackled around the stomach, and abused.
In interviews and written affidavits, five women who have been in the custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and border patrol while pregnant recalled "being ignored when they were obviously miscarrying."
They described their jailers, who were contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as "unwilling or unable to respond to medical emergencies," and "recounted an incident of physical abuse from CBP officers who knew they were dealing with a pregnant woman."
“An official arrived and they said it was not a hospital and they weren’t doctors. They wouldn’t look after me,” one 23-year-old woman told BuzzFeed News, speaking by phone from another detention center, Otay Mesa in San Diego. “I realized I was losing my son. It was his life that I was bleeding out. I was staining everything. I spent about eight days just lying down. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t do anything. I started crying and crying and crying.”
The young woman was seeking asylum in the US. She was arrested two weeks after crossing the border.
“My soul aches that there are many pregnant women coming who could lose their babies like I did and that they will do nothing to help them," she said.
The descriptions and interviews were confirmed by Buzzfeed News through interviews with five legal aid workers, four medical workers, and two advocates who work with ICE detainees.
When it became public knowledge that migrant families are being torn apart at the southern border, the Department of Homeland Security issued assurances as to the conditions in which migrants are kept.
“We provide them with prenatal care, we provide them separate housing, we provide them specialists, we will take them to appointments if they need to go somewhere else, we provide them counseling,” Secretary of Homeland Security Kristjen Nielsen said. “They are not only given adequate care in facilities, but it is much better care than when they are living in the shadows.”
BuzzFeed asked the migrant woman about Nielsen's comments.
"If they had had that, I would not have lost my son. I don’t understand why they won’t take care of pregnant women,” she said.
This may have been the result of the quiet revocation of an Obama-era policy to avoid the detention of pregnant migrant women.
In internal emails, Thoman Homan, the acting director of ICE, announced in December 2017 that the agency would reverse Obama-era directives which advised against the detention of pregnant migrants. The reversal was in order "to comply with President Trump’s executive order on immigration and eliminate the presumption of release for pregnant women."
The change allowed the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency
“ICE’s policy change toward pregnant women is inhumane and will expose these women to potential harm and undoubtedly lead to more miscarriages and pregnancy complications," Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham told The Hill.
"This reprehensible policy change follows a disturbing and growing trend by the Trump Administration to detain pregnant women, which has already led to alarming reports of miscarriages in immigration detention due to CBP and ICE’s inadequate medical care," she added.
Other cases: The
Huffington Post also reported in 2017 that two women faced pregnancy risks and did not receive proper medical care while in ICE custody. Both women miscarried.
According to Huffington Post, one woman's lawyer said the agency repeatedly disregarded her phone calls and emails asking to release her client or send her to a hospital because her health and pregnancy were in danger.
The old policy: Under President Barack Obama,
"While detained in ICE custody, pregnant women will be re-evaluated regularly to determine if continued detention is warranted, receive appropriate prenatal care, and be appropriately monitored by ICE for general health and well-being," the memorandum read.
Furthermore, ICE's standards on medical care, as established in 2011 and amended in 2016, specifies that "at no time shall a pregnant detainee be restrained, absent truly extraordinary circumstances that render restraints absolutely necessary."
But by 2017, those rules were not followed.
"We are gravely concerned with the agency’s failure to abide by its own policy against detaining pregnant women, the detention conditions that have been reported by pregnant women in various detention facilities across the country, and the lack of quality medical care provided to women who are pregnant or have suffered miscarriages while in custody," the complaint said.
According to the complaint, there were approximately 4,829 women detained in ICE facilities as of April 2016. The complaint also noted that arrests of immigrant women generally increased by 35 percent in the first four months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016.
Overall, there were 292 pregnant women detained by ICE in the first four months of 2017.
Backstory: The problem is not a new one.
ICE issued a memorandum in 2011 stating that, absent extraordinary circumstances, field office directors "should not expend detention resources" on detaining migrants known to be pregnant.
This was reaffirmed by another memorandum the Department of Homeland Security issued in 2014.
However, multiple reports dating as far back as 2015 document that US detention facilities have in fact detained pregnant migrant women, oftentimes denying adequate medical attention which has resulted in miscarriages.
The Associated Press reported in 2015 that Monserrat Ruiz, a Mexican migrant, suffered a miscarriage after she tripped and fell while shackled in immigration detention, according to her lawyer.
ICE said in a statement at the time that "preliminary review of documentation and witness statements associated with this case indicate many of the allegations are unsubstantiated," according to AP.
The 2016 memorandum was supposed to undergird and reaffirm commitment to the 2011 guidelines.