#WelcomeWithDignity: ‘Our Government Should Not Be in the Business of Detaining Pregnant or Nursing Individuals’
Washington – Today, the #WelcomeWithDignity campaign responded to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s new memo pertaining to pregnant, postpartum, or nursing individuals. The memo limits the detention of nursing, postpartum, or pregnant people, but still allows ICE officials to detain them in exceptional circumstances. #WelcomeWithDignity campaign members—many of whom have previously spoken out against conditions pregnant people face in ICE custody—responded:
“Hundreds of faith leaders and faith-based organizations have repeatedly called for ICE to restore the presumption of release for individuals who are pregnant, postpartum, or nursing,” said Meredith Owen, Director of Policy and Advocacy for Church World Service. “Church World Service welcomes today’s news and urges the administration to uphold robust standards of comprehensive health care for pregnant, postpartum, or nursing immigrant women or youth in ICE custody. Reports have previously detailed numerous cases of inadequate care and mistreatment, including reports of inaccurate pregnancy tests and delayed access to prenatal care, threatening both the pregnant individual’s health and the health of their fetus. Some women have tragically suffered miscarriages while being held in detention. Nursing mothers have reported not being given information about or supplied with breast pumps that would allow them to maintain their milk supply while separated from their children. This change in policy is an important step toward reducing incidents of inadequate access to care that result in more senseless trauma for mothers, their babies, and their families.”
“This is the right decision and long overdue. Detention endangers the health and safety of pregnant, postpartum, and nursing individuals, who suffer poor conditions and inadequate medical care in ICE facilities,” said Kate Jastram, Policy and Advocacy Director at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS). “Under the Trump administration CGRS and our partners filed a complaint on behalf of several pregnant women who had suffered trauma and medical neglect in ICE detention, including multiple women who miscarried after being denied medical care. We hope to see more humane treatment of all immigrants and asylum seekers going forward.”
“For too many years, the Women’s Refugee Commission has documented the trauma and harm inflicted upon pregnant people detained by ICE,” said Katharina Obser, acting director of the Migrant Rights & Justice Program at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “Our joint complaint and reports, including a complaint on behalf of pregnant people detained by ICE, a report on the detention of pregnant people in DHS custody, and our 2017 report Prison for Survivors, illustrated in horrific detail why the detention of pregnant people is fundamentally unacceptable. After the devastating impact of the Trump administration’s policies, we are heartened to see today’s newly issued guidance and hope this indicates a shift in ICE’s policy and practice once and for all. Given that the guidance does not rule out detention altogether, we will watch closely to ensure the U.S. government is held to account to meaningful implementation of the new guidance, at the same time as we work to end the unacceptable jailing of those seeking protection and those in U.S. communities.”
“This is a step forward in treating people with basic humanity, dignity, and respect, but the fact that this was a fight in the first place is telling,” said Paola Luisi, Families Belong Together. “We believe in a world where pregnant people are treated with respect, not shackles, where children thrive in schools, not camps. One where families can stay and thrive together.”
“Today’s memo is welcome news to upholding the rights and wellbeing of pregnant, postpartum, and nursing people,” said Denise Bell, Researcher for Refugee and Migrant Rights at Amnesty International USA. “But we should be clear: they should not be and should never have been detained at all. ICE must ensure that the memo is actually implemented and take the necessary next steps to end the unjust detention of all people seeking safety here.”
“The harmful consequences of immigration detention have been documented for years. Our 2017 joint complaint urging a thorough investigation into the increasing numbers of pregnant women facing harm in detention, illustrated the disturbing practice of detaining pregnant women and the lack of quality medical care provided to these women” said Rebekah Wolf, Staff Attorney with the American Immigration Council. “The federal government should not be in the business of detaining pregnant or nursing individuals, and it’s good to see the Biden administration directing ICE to finally take meaningful steps to limit enforcement activities in this manner. We are hopeful that this announcement is an indication of a broader shift on detention policy.”
“The Advocates for Human Rights welcomes today’s announcement as a crucial step toward improved protections of women’s rights and people in detention. We have long documented human rights abuses inherent in the immigration detention machinery, including appalling standards of medical and psychological care, sexual assault, discrimination and other violations of basic human rights—all reasons DHS must work to end immigration custody altogether. We further encourage the Biden Administration to fully implement the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) and United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules) in all cases of detention to ensure the U.S. no longer violates the human rights of people in its custody and care.” Michele Garnett McKenzie, Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights.
“The Trump administration’s treatment of asylum-seekers, including the detention of pregnant women and new moms, was cruel and inhumane. It undermined our values and disgraced our country,” said Donna Norton, Executive Vice President of MomsRising. “MomsRising members have relatives whose pregnancies were endangered because they were detained and then denied the medical care they needed. So we are pleased with the Biden-Harris administration’s new guidance, which we hope will immediately, fully and completely end the practice of detaining pregnant women. All asylum-seekers deserve to be treated with compassion and respect, and to have access to the health care they need, without fear of incarceration for seeking safety and protection.”
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