According to reports, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is undergoing a massively controversial shift in policy. According to internal documents obtained by The Hill this week, ICE will be detaining more pregnant women, part of the Trump administration's increasingly strident and harsh posture toward undocumented immigrants.
The directive, authored by ICE Director Thomas Homan, reportedly reverses a policy implemented in 2016 that largely urged the agency to release pregnant women from detention, except in "extraordinary circumstances." That directive made clear that pregnant women would "generally not be detained by ICE."
Homan's new directive, however, does not include that language. To the contrary, it lays out provisions ICE agents are supposed to follow to ensure pregnant women in detention receive proper medical care, paving the way to many more pregnant women being held in jail pending immigration-related trials.
The new policy is reportedly part of the agency's ramping-up of operations since the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Last January, in the earliest days of his presidency, Trump signed an executive order broadening ICE's ability and authority to take action against suspected undocumented immigrants.
According to CNN, a high-ranking ICE official named Philip Miller confirmed the change, but argued that it was not a "draconian" change.
"To mischaracterize this as some kind of wholesale change or draconian change is inaccurate," Miller told CNN. "We're aligning this policy, as all of our policies, with executive orders from the President."
In a statement to Bustle, ICE says the following:
To better align with the President’s Executive Order, ICE has ended the presumption of release for all pregnant detainees. 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. Generally, absent extraordinary circumstances, ICE will not detain a pregnant alien during the third trimester of pregnancy. 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.
Overall immigration arrests have increased to a three-year high in 2017. In total, according to Pew Research, ICE arrested 143,470 people in the 2017 fiscal year, a 30 percent increase from the 2016 fiscal year. The biggest increases in arrests reportedly came in southern states like Florida, Texas, and Oklahoma.
While Trump has frequently touted the work of ICE agents, and called for a tougher posture toward undocumented immigrants, many among the progressive left have increasingly embraced the notion of abolishing ICE altogether, arguing that its actions ― which include breaking up and forcibly separating families ― are antithetical to a humane and decent country.
Contrary to what you might assume, ICE has not been around forever. It was actually created in 2003, part of the Homeland Security Act passed following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which set off America's global "war on terror." It's been a controversial entity ever since, and not just when Republicans have controlled the federal government; to date, former president Barack Obama has presided over more deportations in his time in office than any other commander in chief.
The detainment of pregnant women may carry additional risks, even beyond the apparent harshness of the punishment. While she acknowledged that precise and concrete data is not publicly available, Katie Shepard of the American Immigration Council told The Daily Beast last year that the rate of miscarriage among pregnant women detained by ICE appears to be elevated, with her organization hearing an increased number of such stories.
"They’re not releasing them when they should be,” Shepherd told The Daily Beast, “so women who have high-risk pregnancies or who already have a history of miscarriage are being held in detention, which by definition has limited access to medical services."
Trump has long taken a hard-line stance on undocumented immigration, and has been accused by his critics of using xenophobic demagoguery. While still a candidate, he enthusiastically backed the notion of a “deportation force,” and since entering office, he’s frequently lauded the work of ICE, including celebrating an individual ICE agent during his first State of the Union address.