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March 29, 2018

ICE Announces New Policy to Detain Pregnant Women

New York City—Human Rights First today condemned a policy shift by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that it will no longer generally release from detention pregnant women, including those seeking asylum. The agency states that it will instead determine release on a case-by-case basis, though this claim raises serious questions. Human Rights First has documented that ICE often fails to actually provide individualized assessments, as required by U.S. and international law, leaving vulnerable individuals who pose no threat in prison-like detention facilities indefinitely. 

“Americans should all be horrified at the thought of innocent pregnant women—many of whom fled violence and abuse in their home countries—languishing in what are essentially prisons. Detention exacerbates trauma that asylum seekers have experienced; to lock up these vulnerable women is inhumane, and an affront to our American ideals,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “The Trump Administration is holding women, children and men who are seeking U.S. refugee protection in jails and detention facilities for extended periods of time even though their continued detention violates U.S. human rights and refugee protection treaties as it is often unnecessary, disproportionate, or otherwise arbitrary.” 

Last month Human Rights First released a report on conditions in New Jersey immigration detention facilities which found that prolonged detention, coupled with inadequate and delayed medical and mental health care and often inhumane conditions, exacerbates the suffering of traumatized individuals. Detention, even for short periods of time, can lead to depression, anxiety, and increased risk of suicide. In a complaint filed to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, pregnant women held in detention reported being “ignored by detention staff when requesting medical attention or experiencing serious delays even during health emergencies involving severe bleeding and pain.”  

ICE’s failure to provide meaningful case-by-case assessments in detention decisions is at the heart of a new lawsuit filed by Human Rights First, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, and Covington & Burling. In early 2017, the Trump Administration implemented a de facto policy of denying parole to asylum seekers to deter individuals from legally seeking refuge in the United States. This de facto policy directly violates ICE’s own directive to release asylum seekers who verify their identity, establish that they are not a flight risk, and pose no known public safety threat. Under the new policy, ICE’s field offices in Los Angeles, El Paso, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Newark have denied parole to 96 percent of asylum seekers. In response to this practice, Human Rights First and its partners filed a class action lawsuit in support of asylum seekers who languish in prisons ostensibly without any chance of parole.  

For more information see Human Rights First’s report, “Judge and Jailer.” To speak with Acer contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.