Press Releases

Rep. Roybal-Allard Secures DHS Sec. Nielsen’s Commitment to Address Concerns About Detention of Pregnant Women

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Washington, April 11, 2018 | Ben Soskin ((202) 225-1766) | comments
Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), the Ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee and the co-chair of the Women's Working Group on Immigration Reform, secured a commitment today from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen that DHS would reply by the end of the week to a letter the congresswoman has co-led seeking information about the increased detention rates of pregnant immigrant women and recent miscarriages in detention centers across the U.S.  The congresswoman’s letter, sent last October, has yet to receive a response from DHS.

On October 31, 2017, Congresswoman Roybal-Allard and her Working Group co-chair Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) led 68 fellow congressmembers in sending the letter to then-Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke.  The letter’s signatories sought increased transparency around the treatment of pregnant women in detention, and sought clarification from DHS on safety procedures, detention numbers and durations of detention for pregnant immigrant women.  Last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced an end to its presumption of release for detained pregnant women, including pregnant mothers seeking asylum.

Congresswoman Roybal-Allard’s discussion with Secretary Nielsen took place during today’s Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on DHS’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget request, at which Secretary Nielsen was the witness.  Their exchange regarding conditions for pregnant women in detention, and Congresswoman Roybal-Allard’s letter on this subject, appears below.

Congresswoman Roybal-Allard: As you probably know, in October of 2017, I sent a letter signed by 69 of my colleagues to then-Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke regarding our concerns about pregnant women in detention facilities.  Reports show that ICE detained nearly 68,000 women in Fiscal Year 2017, of whom 525 were pregnant. Our letter included confirmed stories of women who suffered miscarriages and received inadequate medical care while in detention.  Additionally, our letter asked for statistics on the number of pregnant women in detention, and asked about ICE and CBP policies regarding the treatment of pregnant women.

We have yet to receive a response to our letter, but we continue to hear reports about pregnant women who have been transferred between facilities multiple times with extremely restricted access to food and restrooms and who are denied extra blankets, additional food, and adequate prenatal care.

It is my belief that no pregnant woman should be forced to live in a facility that lacks adequate medical care or can endanger their unborn child, which is what these women are facing.

On March 29th, ICE released a new policy on detaining pregnant women.  ICE’s previous policy had a presumption of release, and detained women only if their detention was required by law or due to “extraordinary circumstances.”  However, ICE’s new policy detains pregnant women on a case-by-case basis.

Is any effort being made to look into alternatives to detention programs that provide dignity and adequate care for pregnant women and their unborn child?  And also, are there any reporting requirements in place to ensure that you are made aware of any rise in the incidence of negative outcomes for pregnant women and their unborn children, such as miscarriages, other pregnancy complications, or mental health challenges related to detention?

Secretary Nielsen: First, let me just start by sharing your concerns.  There is no room in any enforcement agency to treat anybody without the particular respect and care that they need.  So this is a high priority for me.

We have looked into the detention policies at CBP and ICE.  You'd be surprised to learn that some of them are very detailed.  For example, CBP checks the temperature in all its detention facilities per hour.  So I suspect that some of these cases are outliers.  It's not an excuse, we must address each one, but what I'd like to offer is that my staff come and brief you comprehensively on this.

When we get to ICE – let's start with ICE – we do screen any female detainee 18 to 56 to see if they are pregnant.  We then offer them a variety of services, everything from counseling through to remote access to specialists.  We certainly offer them special needs that they might have depending on how their pregnancy is.  CBP, as you know, has them for a smaller amount of time, generally speaking, before they're transferred to ICE.  CBP has similar standards.

But these cases concern me.  What I'd like to ask in return is if we could be provided specific examples, we would like to investigate them.  Our IG investigates any case that's brought to their attention, as well as the Office of Professional Responsibility.  But in short, I'm committing to you that we will ensure that any pregnant women in our care in detention receives adequate care.

Congresswoman Roybal-Allard: Well, the fact is that there are numerous cases that have been documented that show that there has been either the mistreatment or the neglect of pregnant women, who in those cases have suffered from miscarriages, as I said in my statement.  So I would like to work with you on that because there may be policies in place that either are not being followed, or that in some cases, the agents or officials aren't aware of.  And therefore it may be a matter of getting that information out.

But I think that one thing that would be very helpful is if, in fact, there were reporting requirements that would keep you currently informed of any problems that were happening in the detention centers, with regards to miscarriages or other health issues of pregnant women.  And would you be willing to maybe put together that kind of reporting requirement to keep you and the members of this committee informed about that?

Secretary Nielsen: Yes, ma'am.

Congresswoman Roybal-Allard: Okay, thank you.  I appreciate that.  And do you know when we could expect a response to that letter?

Secretary Nielsen: Yes, let me commit that we will get you a response to that letter by the end of this week.

Congresswoman Roybal-Allard: Okay.  And also, Mr. Chairman, for the record, I would like to submit a letter that is being sent to Director Homan with about 200 or more [organizations] who are concerned about the new detention standard.

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