(CNSNews.com) - DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told the House Appropriations Committee at a budget hearing on Wednesday that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement screens female detainees aged 18 to 56 for pregnancy and then offers them a variety of services, including counseling and remote access to specialists.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) informed Nielsen that the congresswoman sent a letter by her and 69 of her colleagues to acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke in October expressing concern about pregnant women in detention facilities.
“As you probably know, in October of 2017, I sent a letter signed by 69 of my colleagues to then acting Homeland 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,” Roybal-Allard said.
“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,” she said.
“We have yet to receive a response to our letter, but we continue to receive 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,” Roybal-Allard continued.
The congresswoman said pregnant detainees should not be forced “to live in a facility that lacks adequate medical care or can endanger their child, which is what these women are facing.” She described a new ICE policy, which requires pregnant detainees to be detained “on a case-by-case basis” instead of being released into the United States as was the previous policy.
“On March 29, 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,” Roybal-Allard said.
“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 incidents of negative outcomes of pregnant women and their unborn children, such as miscarriages, other complications, or mental health challenges related to detention?” the congresswoman asked.
Nielsen said she shared her concerns, adding, “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 of 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,” the secretary said.
She offered to have her staff brief the congresswoman “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,” Nielsen said.
“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,” she said.
Nielsen asked for the congresswoman to provide her with specific examples so that DHS could 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 woman in our care in detention receives adequate care,” Nielsen said.
Roybal-Allard said there were “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.”
“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 aren’t -- officials aren’t aware of, and therefore, it may be a matter of getting that information out,” she said.
“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,” Roybal-Allard added.
She asked Nielsen if the secretary would be willing to “put together that kind of reporting requirement” to keep Roybal-Allard and members of the Appropriation committed informed about it, and Nielsen agreed, saying she would respond to the letter by the end of the week.
Roybal-Allard submitted into the record a letter that was being sent to acting ICE Director Tom Homan “with about 200 or more agencies who are concerned about the new detention standard.”
In September, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that it has filed an administrative complaint with DHS’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the Office of Inspector General, calling on them to investigate ICE’s treatment of pregnant women in its custody.
“Several women in our complaint report that they were ignored and denied immediate medical care even in cases of extreme bleeding and pain. Others said that they were concerned about their pregnancies because of previous health issues and miscarriages,” the ACLU said.
An ICE directive issued on Dec. 14, 2017 and updated on March 29, 2018 calls for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) officers and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents to notify their Field Office Directors (FODs) and Special Agents in Charge (SACs) “when they arrest and detain a pregnant individual in ICE custody.”
The directive calls for the ERO FODs to notify the local Field Medical Coordinator (FMC) upon learning of a pregnant detainee.
ERO Field Office Directors are also responsible for ensuring that detention facilities are aware of their obligations regarding pregnant detainees, ensuring that pregnant detainees “receive appropriate medical care including effectuating transfers to facilities that are able to provide appropriate medical treatment.” They must monitor the condition of pregnant detainees and ensure that ERO officers are aware of “policy related to the use of restraints for pregnant detainees.”
ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) personnel are responsible for monitoring the condition of pregnant detainees, “including the term of the pregnancy, general health of the pregnant detainee, and medical condition of the fetus.” They are also responsible for communicated with Field Office Directors about “any specific risk factors or concerns.”
IHSC Personnel are also responsible for “oversight and review of facility capabilities to determine if a pregnant detainee’s needs can be accommodated and recommending to FOD when a pregnant detainee’s transfer to another facility is necessary for appropriate medical care.” They must also develop and maintain “a system for tracking and monitoring all pregnant detainees in ICE custody.”