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Reps. Roybal-Allard and Jayapal Lead Forum on Immigrant Women in Detention Under Trump Administration Policies

Today, co-chairs of the Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform Congresswomen Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40) and Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) led an immigration forum at the U.S. Capitol to discuss the experiences of immigrant women in detention under the Trump Administration’s policies.

You can view the video of the forum here. In addition to Reps. Roybal-Allard and Jayapal, members of Congress participating in the forum included House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD-05) and Congressmembers Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), and Jimmy Panetta (CA-20).

According to recent reports, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained nearly 68,000 women in Fiscal Year 2017, and 525 of those women were pregnant. As ICE ramps up its enforcement efforts, more and more vulnerable individuals are being detained, in some cases for long periods of time. This is particularly concerning for women who have specific health needs that may be unmet in immigration detention centers and mothers who struggle to stay in contact with their children.

The forum was hosted by the Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform, a consortium of national advocacy groups and members of Congress dedicated to advancing comprehensive immigration reform, while emphasizing the unique, and often dangerous, path immigrant women face as they seek refuge for themselves and their families in the United States.

“I am so thankful to the advocates at our forum today for shining a light on the utterly unacceptable living conditions that immigrant women face in our detention centers,” said Rep. Roybal-Allard. “No woman should be denied medical treatment or be given substandard care. No woman should endure the continuing threat of sexual assault and rape. No woman should suffer an unnecessary miscarriage. Yet women in detention face all of these dangers and more. Immigrant women being held in detention have come to America to escape violence and economic hardships in their home country. Our detention centers must not dehumanize them or exacerbate their traumas.”

“Women and children suffer the most because of our broken immigration system. This year alone, ICE detained 68,000 women, 525 of whom were pregnant,” said Rep. Jayapal. “That’s why we held this forum today. Too many women are unnecessarily detained, and denied access to health care, legal services, protection and dignity. This is a crisis. No amount of hate, xenophobia or sexism from this administration will convince us otherwise.”

Panelists included Izabel Solis, a MomsRising member whose pregnant sister was detained by ICE for six weeks this summer; Rosie Hidalgo, Senior Director of Public Policy at Casa de Esperanza; Katharina Obser, a Senior Program Officer in Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission; Linda Rivas, Managing Attorney at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center; and Dora Schriro, Founding Director of ICE’s Office of Detention Policy and Planning and former Special Advisor to former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

“My family is one of many that has been devastated by our country’s inhumane immigrant detention policies,” said Izabel Solis, a MomsRising member whose pregnant sister was detained by ICE for six weeks this summer. “My sister didn’t have a criminal record, and yet she was treated like a hardened criminal, denied necessary medical care and separated from her children. Thanks to the advocacy of groups like MomsRising, she has been reunited with her family and is slowly recovering from this traumatic experience, but too many other women aren’t as lucky. Pregnant women should not be treated this way, and the private companies operating these facilities should not be making a profit out of detaining vulnerable women. We can, and we must, do better.”

“We are concerned that current policies fail to sufficiently take into account the increased risks for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking,” said Rosie Hidalgo, Senior Director of Public Policy for Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network. “This sharpens the tools of abusers, has a chilling effect on immigrant victims and witnesses of crime coming forward, and undermines important protections under the Violence Against Women Act and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which have always had bipartisan support.”

“As a lawyer who works directly with immigrants in need of protection in the El Paso, TX area, we’ve been witness to egregious violations of access to counsel, complete denial of parole to all asylum seekers, the detention of pregnant women, and families who are torn apart through immigration and border enforcement,” said Linda Rivas, Executive Director and Managing Attorney at Las Americas. “As a community we work hard to ensure accountability and transparency of ICE and CBP practices but complaints often land on deaf ears and cooperation is often nonexistent. It doesn’t have to be this way. Our clients deserve a more just and humane immigration detention system.”

“The law is clear. Criminal defendants may be incarcerated by the court as punishment–civil detainees must not. There is no legal basis to punish a person in the custody of ICE. The remedy for a person unlawfully present in the United States is either removal or relief. Period.” said Dr. Dora Schriro, founding former Director of ICE’s Office of Detention Policy and Planning. “ICE classifies the majority of individuals in its custody as low risk of escape or assault. Most in ICE custody are working parents and productive members of their communities. Assigning them to correctional facilities is excessive and excessively expensive.” Schriro concluded, “When the U.S. government takes individuals into its custody, it assumes responsibility for their safety and wellbeing. Yet the detention policies now being proposed – significantly expanding the system while substantively rolling back operating standards – will only undermine the government’s ability to ensure the most basic protections for those in its custody.”

“Women’s Refugee Commission has been monitoring immigration detention practices for over two decades. As the nearly 150 women we spoke to for our recent report, Prison for Survivors, make clear, the need for protection is instead often met with prolonged detention during which women are deprived of adequate medical and mental health care, unable to access counsel, and denied their dignity,” said Katharina Obser from Women’s Refugee Commission. “WRC hopes that the increased spotlight on the conditions of women in detention will help Congress make the right choice—the choice to say no to funding for an expansion of immigration detention and yes to legislation that reduces our detention system and implements more stringent oversight of mistreatment in detention.”