Reversing a Trump-era rule, ICE will avoid detaining pregnant, nursing, or postpartum undocumented immigrants.
The new policy is outlined in a July 1 memo signed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Tae Johnson (USA Today). “ICE is committed to safeguarding the integrity of our immigration system and preserving the health and safety of pregnant, postpartum, and nursing individuals,” said Johnson. “Given the unique needs of this population, we will not detain individuals known to be pregnant, postpartum, or nursing unless release is prohibited by law or exceptional circumstances exist.”
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These limited circumstances include when the woman “poses an imminent risk of death, violence, or physical harm” or is a national security concern. A senior administration official notes that the memo utilizes gender neutral language in order to acknowledge that “transgender men can give birth.” As of July 15, only thirteen pregnant women were in ICE custody, all of whom are being considered for release.
All female detainees are already given pregnancy tests after being taken into custody as part of routine health screenings. At this time, ICE is also likely to release those women who find out they are pregnant through that test (Washington Post). Those who favor immigration enforcement believe this policy will essentially guarantee that children of released pregnant immigrants will be born on U.S. soil and automatically be granted citizenship. On the other hand, advocates for immigrants strongly believe that detaining pregnant and postpartum women endangers their physical and mental health.
According to BBC, the number of migrants at the U.S. border has hit an all-time high, an extreme crisis facing the Biden administration. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported catching 180,034 migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border in the month of May alone, which was slightly up from 178,854 in April and 172,000 in March.
This number also reflects the biggest monthly total since April 2000, and the 2021 figures are more than double the previous year’s total. The number of unaccompanied children from Central America, however, did drop from 13,940 in April to 10,765 in May according to CBP. Earlier this year, the Biden administration ended family detention and instead is opting to release most migrant families within 72 hours to await a hearing in immigration court.
Despite Biden’s relax on his predecessor’s strict immigration laws, those seeking refuge from Haiti and Cuba amidst immense turmoil will not be welcomed. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas delivered a stern warning on July 13: “Allow me to be clear: if you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States.” Those trying to reach the U.S. by sea will be returned to their home countries by the Coast Guard (CBS News).