ICE more likely to detain pregnant women with immigration cases under new policy

The Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego.
(Elliot Spagat / Associated Press)

Pregnant women who have cases in immigration court are more likely to be detained following a policy change announced Thursday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Under the old policy, unless there were extraordinary circumstances or a mandatory detention requirement, pregnant women would generally not be held in custody. Now, pregnant immigrants will be treated like any other person in ICE custody. Under the Trump administration, that means they are likely to be detained.

“To better align with the President’s executive order, ICE has ended the presumption of release for all pregnant detainees,” said Lauren Mack, spokeswoman for ICE. “Instead, as with all detainees except those in cases of mandatory detention, ICE will complete a case-by-case custody determination taking any special factors into account.

“This does not mean that all pregnant aliens will be detained; only those whose detention is necessary to effectuate removal, as well as those deemed a flight risk or danger to the community,” she said. “Generally, absent extraordinary circumstances, ICE will not detain a pregnant alien during the third trimester of pregnancy.”


President Trump’s executive order, which Mack cited, says, “We cannot faithfully execute the immigration laws of the United States if we exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”

ICE has the authority to release people from custody, called parole, and can require those immigrants to wear ankle monitors or follow other tracking programs to make sure they show up to court. Under the Trump administration, ICE has generally declined to let people out of detention until and unless immigration judges decide to release them during bond hearings.

Human rights advocates and immigration attorneys criticized the new policy.

Annaluisa Padilla, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Assn., called the new policy “an egregious human rights offense.”


“This is concerning given the current administration’s exceptionally narrow view of discretion when it comes to immigrants,” Padilla said. “Detention creates serious health risks, and many women have medical needs that cannot typically be addressed in a detention setting.”

In an FAQ created to address the policy change on ICE’s website, ICE responded to human rights concerns.

“ICE exercises its civil detention authority consistent with the law, and all detainees receive necessary and appropriate health services, food, and care,” the website said. “ICE detention facilities will continue to provide onsite prenatal care and education, as well as remote access to specialists for pregnant women who remain in custody.”

Nationwide, 35 pregnant women were in ICE custody as of March 20, according to Danielle Bennett, another ICE spokeswoman.


In San Diego, immigration attorneys observed this policy change in practice before it was officially announced.

Last year, several pregnant women held at Otay Mesa Detention Center came forward to express concerns over care provided while they were in custody and questioned why they hadn’t yet been released per the policy in place at the time.

Maria Solis, who had lived with her family in Oceanside for years, was pregnant with her fourth child when she was arrested by ICE on her way to work. She had a history of difficult pregnancies and worried that being in the detention facility would cause her to miscarry.

She said a facility doctor told her, “If you have a miscarriage here, it’s not our fault, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”


Solis agreed to give up an asylum claim in immigration court because she didn’t want to subject her fetus to detention conditions any longer. She anticipated that ICE would deport her to Mexico.

In a surprise move by immigration officials, Solis was then released on an order of supervision. She has a pending U-visa application, which provides green cards to crime victims who cooperate with police.

Because of her case, other pregnant women began to speak out, and several advocacy groups filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security about the treatment of pregnant women in detention.

Sandra Mejia Galicias, a 23-year-old asylum seeker from El Salvador, was one of the women inspired by Solis to speak out. She also said the facility didn’t give adequate care to pregnant women.


“If I had a headache or felt like I was having a heart attack, they would say, ‘Drink more water,’ ” Mejia Galicias told the Union-Tribune last fall. She was released in November around the beginning of her third trimester.

When asked about the women’s claims, ICE has responded that they received timely and appropriate medical care and said that Otay Mesa Detention Center, which is operated by the for-profit CoreCivic, has passed inspections for detention standards.

The new policy still requires detention facilities to notify ICE if staff find out a woman in custody is pregnant. If a facility is unable to provide adequate medical care for the woman’s condition, ICE will transfer her to another facility.

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Morrissey writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.