Why Lawmakers' Push To End The Shackling Of Pregnant Immigrants May Not Mean Much

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Earlier this month, BuzzFeed News released a report indicating that multiple immigrant women have had miscarriages while in detention due to "cruel, inhumane" practices. Pregnant immigrant women had been shackled around their bellies, denied necessary medical care, and abused while in the custody of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. However, the practice of shackling pregnant immigrant women could soon be restricted, thanks to a new amendment passed by the House Appropriations Committee.

On Wednesday, the committee adopted an amendment to the Homeland Security Appropriations bill that would limit the use of shackles on pregnant immigrant women who have been detained. The amendment, which was passed via a voice vote with no opposition, was sponsored by Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark, a Democrat who criticized ICE for its use of shackles on pregnant woman. She cited the American Medical Association as saying that it was harmful to do so, especially in the second or third trimester of a pregnancy, because it could harm the fetus.

Shackles could not only cause issues with the pregnancy, they said, but could also delay medical professionals who are attempting to provide care to a woman who is either pregnant or who has just given birth.

Sera Bonds, the founder and CEO of Circle of Health International, has cared for pregnant women who said they had not received medical care while in immigrant detention facilities. She tells Bustle that acute stress during a pregnancy — particularly during the last trimester, and particularly for women of color who simultaneously experience systemic racism — could compound traumatic experiences and lead to preterm births.

Shackling contributes to increased acute stress in pregnant immigrant women; so does the fact they have already had to travel long distances with limited resources prior to arriving at the border. No one "deserves to be shackled for seeking asylum," Bonds argued.

Bonds tells Bustle that while it's nice to "see some commitment to treating these people with an increased amount of humanity," she is "skeptical" that legislation limiting the shackling of pregnant immigrant women will actually "translate into changed behavior."

"I'm not sure truly that it means that much," Bonds tells Bustle. "The detentions have been going on for many years ... what will be interesting about this particular piece of legislation about shackling pregnant women will be how it's enforced."

The House Appropriation Committee's vote to adopt this amendment coincided with other congressional Democrats' efforts to limit or eliminate existing shackling practices. On Tuesday, Washington Sen. Patty Murray and 21 other co-sponsors introduced The Stop Shackling and Detaining Pregnant Women Act, which aims to prohibit the detention of pregnant women while improving the conditions of those who are already in custody. Her co-sponsors include California Sen. Kamala Harris, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

"It is absolutely unacceptable that in our country pregnant women are being detained, shackled, and denied the care they need to have a healthy pregnancy," Murray said in a press release, according to The Hill. "The Trump Administration should immediately reverse course on this heartless and dangerous policy that puts the health of mothers and infants at risk."

Murray told The Hill she introduced this bill in response to BuzzFeed's report about the mistreatment of detained pregnant immigrant women. However, Bonds urged women's rights activists — especially large national organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America — to simultaneously mobilize in favor of long-term change, rather than just in-the-moment policies.

"This particular crisis is not new and it isn't going away," Bonds tells Bustle. "We all need to recognize that this is a marathon ... and we need to take actions that are sustainable."