Federal immigration officials have ended a general practice of releasing pregnant women facing deportation under a policy revealed Thursday by the Trump administration.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy had been that pregnant undocumented immigrants being detained were allowed to be freed on bond or supervised release. But President Trump has ordered ICE to keep more undocumented immigrants in detention, arguing that too many are released and never appear for their deportation hearings.
The new policy, which was quietly signed three months ago, angered immigration advocates and human rights organizations.
“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,” said Eleanor Acer, senior director of refugee protection for Human Rights First.
Philip Miller, deputy executive associate director for ICE's enforcement and removal operations, said pregnant detainees will continue receiving close medical attention, including checkups with an outside doctor. He said 506 pregnant women have been through ICE custody in the past three months.
"Clearly this population of pregnant women have a special circumstance," Miller said Thursday during a conference call with reporters. "It’s not just an officer deciding on her physical condition. We have doctors, we have nurses, we have medical professionals with whom we consult."
Miller said the decision whether to detain pregnant women must follow a similar procedure with all other inmates.
He said undocumented immigrants are automatically detained if they have a serious criminal record, are deemed a flight risk or meet other criteria. Pregnant women who don't meet those categories were generally released under the previous policy, but now that presumption no longer stands.
Only women in their third trimester will be released from custody, because they are not allowed to fly, Miller said. Other pregnant detainees will be judged on a case-by-case basis, with their pregnancy a "special factor" to be considered as part of their entire case.
"We’re not going to carve out classes of persons" not subject to the policy, Miller said.
Human rights activists have hammered the Trump administration in recent months over its treatment of pregnant women in immigration detention. A group of organizations, including the ACLU, the American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, filed a complaint in September against the Department of Homeland Security alleging that pregnant women were not receiving adequate care in ICE detention centers.
Thursday's announcement further enraged those groups, who say the decision is the latest to unfairly target immigrants.
"The Trump administration has made it clear they will stop at nothing when it comes to harming and attacking immigrants," said Pili Tobar, managing director of America's Voice, a group that advocates on behalf of immigrants. "Anti-immigrant hostility is the central and consistent theme of this administration ... and a push that is at direct odds with our basic values and best traditions in America."
The directive was signed by ICE Deputy Director Thomas Hogan on Dec. 14 but was not made public until Thursday. Miller said the agency waited to announce the decision until medical workers could help implement the plan.
Miller said all ICE staff was officially informed of the new policy Thursday.