ICE Says Dozens Of Women It Detained Over The Past Two Years May Have Miscarried

by Seth Millstein
John Moore/Getty Images News/Getty Images

According to a report in the Arizona Republic, dozens of women may have miscarried while in ICE's custody over the last two years. In a statement to Bustle, ICE confirms that during fiscal years 2017 and 2018, up to 28 women "may have experienced a miscarriage just prior to, or while in ICE custody."

In 2016, the Obama administration issued a memo clarifying that "absent extraordinary circumstances or the requirement of mandatory detention, pregnant women will generally not be detained by ICE," the Arizona Republic reported. But the Trump administration withdrew that memo at the end of 2017, clearing the way for the immigration enforcement agency to detain pregnant women as it would any other undocumented immigrant. ICE says in its statement to Bustle that between Oct. 1, 2017 and Aug. 31 2018, the agency detained 1,655 pregnant women.

ICE's current policy requires immigration officials to ensure that "pregnant detainees receive appropriate medical care." However, BuzzFeed News reported in July that this directive was not being carried out, and quoted four women detainees who say they were were denied medical care in ICE's custody while they were "obviously miscarrying." One woman told BuzzFeed News that she begged officials for help after she began bleeding profusely at an Arizona detention center, but they replied that "it was not a hospital and they weren’t doctors," and didn't transfer her to a clinic or medical center.

In April 2018, after it was reported that ICE had resumed detaining pregnant women, a group of over 250 civil and reproductive rights organizations wrote a letter to then-acting ICE Director Thomas Homan asking him to reconsider the policy.

"The immigration detention system had proven itself incapable of handling the healthcare needs of vulnerable populations, including those with serious medical and mental health needs," wrote the coalition of organizations, which included NARAL, the NAACP, Planned Parenthood, and Lambda Legal. "We urge ICE to discontinue its policy of detaining pregnant individuals, who should be able to access the critical healthcare services they need, and instead release them to continue their cases outside of detention."

The coalition said that detention facilities too often provide "inadequate care" to detainees with medical needs, and described two previous cases in which women miscarried in ICE's custody.

The Arizona Republic's report comes a week after the news that a Honduran immigrant went into labor prematurely and delivered a stillborn baby while detained by ICE in Texas. Days before that, a Mexican migrant died while in the custody of Border Patrol. This was the third time since December that an immigrant died in the agency's custody; prior to 2018, there had been no such deaths in 10 years.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the Honduran woman who miscarried has since been released by ICE. In its press release explaining that incident, ICE noted that "a stillbirth is not considered an in-custody death," but that the agency was nonetheless "proactively disclosing the details of this tragic event to be transparent with Congress, the media and the public."