- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2018

Homeland Security announced a new policy Thursday that allows it to detain more pregnant illegal immigrants, reversing an Obama-era policy that had generally pushed for pregnant women to be released.

The move drew swift condemnation from advocacy groups who said it was cruel, but the department said they felt a need to create a uniform policy that applied to all migrants, and were carrying out an executive order from President Trump.

The change doesn’t guarantee all pregnant women will be held, but it removes the presumption that they be released.

“This is now a case-by-case basis,” said Tyler Q. Houlton, a spokesman for Homeland Security.

The policy change was signed in December, though U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — the Homeland Security agency in charge of detaining illegal immigrants — only announced it Thursday. The agency said it wanted to make sure it was implementing it correctly.

Immigrant-rights advocates said the move was a step backward for an agency already facing criticism for carrying out Mr. Trump’s immigration priorities.

“ICE is reaching new lows in its attack on immigrants and its willingness to violate women’s bodies and our rights,” said Jess Morales Rocketto, chairwoman of the We Belong Together Campaign. “The nine months of pregnancy should be a time of care and preparation to bring a new life into this world. The dehumanization that occurs in detention is the exact opposite of what pregnant women or any woman should experience.”

Detention policy is complicated by the fact that there are some migrants who are considered “mandatory” detainees — generally those caught at the border and those whose records Congress has said require detention.

All other migrants in deportation proceedings are evaluated on a case-by-case basis to see whether they should be held, either as flight risks or because of public safety concerns.

Many pregnant women who end up in ICE custody are already mandatory detainees, meaning the agency was holding them even during the old Obama-era policy. Of the 35 pregnant migrants in custody as of last week, all were mandatory holds, ICE said.

Since the policy change in December, ICE has encountered a total of 506 pregnant detainees — though most have been released, either because they’ve been deported or were set free into the community.

All women ages 10 to 56 in ICE custody are given a urine test for pregnancy. If they are found to be pregnant they are scheduled for appointments with a doctor, and given prenatal vitamins, lab tests and whatever other care doctors recommend.

Activists groups have filed complaints with ICE over treatment of pregnant women in custody, pointing to cases of women who miscarried while in detention.

“Instead of ensuring these women have access to the care and support they need, this policy will force pregnant women to be housed in unsafe, highly stressful and controversial detention facilities,” said Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico Democrat and chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

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