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ICE will stop jailing pregnant and postpartum migrants, reversing Trump policy

A pregnant woman is helped off an inflatable raft by a man
Mayra Culio from Guatemala is helped off an inflatable raft by a church volunteer after being smuggled across the Rio Grande in Roma, Texas, in March.
(Associated Press)

U.S. immigration authorities will no longer routinely jail migrants facing deportation if they are pregnant or recently gave birth, reversing a Trump-era immigration policy.

The new directive, announced Friday, does not bar Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials from initiating proceedings to deport women who are pregnant, nursing or have given birth within the last year. But those women generally will no longer be detained pending the outcome of their cases except under “exceptional circumstances,” the agency said.

The practice of detaining pregnant migrants has been condemned as a threat to maternal and fetal health by immigrant and women’s advocacy groups critical of medical care at detention centers.

“This reflects our commitment to treat all individuals with respect and dignity while still enforcing our nation’s laws,” acting ICE Director Tae Johnson said.

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The change is part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to roll back Trump-era enforcement measures and return to policies resembling those in place under President Obama. ICE recently adopted draft guidelines to focus apprehensions on people in the United States illegally who recently entered the country, pose a national security threat or have committed serious crimes. These efforts have angered immigration opponents.

The number of people in immigration custody has risen sharply in recent months. More than 27,000 people are in ICE custody, up from fewer than 14,000 at the end of March, according to data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

The California-Mexico project is meant to reduce wait times as well as air pollution at ports of entry in the San Diego region.

Nearly 80% of those in ICE custody have no criminal record, and a majority of those who do have committed minor offenses, according to TRAC.

Immigrants rights advocates praised Friday’s announcement but said it doesn’t go far enough. The American Civil Liberties Union called on the government to stop detaining anyone who might be at risk in detention. “This action by the Biden administration is a welcome step in the right direction,” said Eunice Cho, a senior staff attorney with the organization.

Under Obama, ICE adopted a policy in August 2016 that pregnant migrants would be presumed eligible for release as their cases made their way through immigration courts.

President Trump ended that policy of presumed release, part of his administration’s heightened immigration enforcement, including arrests of anyone without legal residency regardless of whether they had committed some other offense.

Newly released data show that migrants were stopped 180,034 times across the southern border in May, nearly eight times the total a year ago.

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The number of pregnant women detained by ICE increased from 1,380 in 2016 to 2,098, according to the Government Accountability Office.

ICE is required by law to detain some migrants, including foreign nationals who have been convicted of certain crimes or terrorist activity. The agency pledged that the “very limited” number of pregnant women detained under the new policy would receive regular healthcare as needed and that officials would be prohibited from using restraints on them except in “extraordinary circumstances.”


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