As the Trump administration continues its policy of detaining an increasing number of people at the border, pregnant migrant women are at an increased risk of miscarriage and fetal death. A new opinion piece written by an advocate for reproductive health and rights for Latinx women argues that there are two legislative steps that Congress could take to curb the dangerous conditions faced by pregnant women in detention.

The commentary, titled “Congress Needs to Step Up and Defund ICE’s Barbaric Abuses Against Pregnant Women” was written by Jessica González-Rojas, executive director at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. In the August 6 Rewire.News piece, Rojas writes:

Back in March, internal documents revealed the Trump administration’s cruel policy change, which it had cowardly implemented in December 2017, revoking the presumption of release for detained pregnant immigrants. In doing so, the administration advanced its goal of increasing the immigrant population in detention. The policy change also removed critical language on reporting requirements for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials and their treatment of pregnant women, including weekly evaluations of whether the continued detainment of a pregnant woman was necessary or adequate.

The current policy gives ICE officials the authority to freely detain pregnant individuals and determine their release on a case-by-case basis. Given ICE’s record of not releasing other immigrant populations, we can expect them to also keep pregnant women indefinitely detained.

Previously, ICE detained pregnant women only under extraordinary circumstances. In addition to the new policy, pregnant women are being treated in dangerous, harmful ways in detention. “Recent news reports indicate that, while detained under the Trump administration, pregnant women are being denied medical care, shackled around the stomach, and are suffering other abuses,” González-Rojas writes. 

She asserts that this policy change is intended to increase private prison company profits and to meet the goals of the White House’s “anti-immigrant agenda.” As it relates to pregnant women:

The substandard care that pregnant women receive in detention is not only threatening to their health, but also causes unnecessary harm to their pregnancies. In making this policy change, the Trump administration has chosen to completely ignore the significant risks that detention poses to pregnant women.

There are currently two legislative solutions, according to González-Rojas. One, the Stop Shackling and Detaining Pregnant Women Act, is a bill that was introduced last month in the U.S. Senate. It is intended to “ensure the humane treatment of pregnant women by reinstating the presumption of release and prohibiting shackling, restraining and other inhumane treatment of pregnant detainees.

In addition, Congress is currently debating Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding for the fiscal year ending September 2019. The budget enables DHS to strengthen border security and enforce immigration law, according to the agency’s website. González-Rojas argues that “Congress should pass the Stop Shackling and Detaining Pregnant Women Act and vote against the upcoming DHS spending bill that funds these egregious practices.” 

Read the entire commentary here.