Preserving the Health of Detained Pregnant Women

Erick Widman

On July 9, 2022, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a new policy in which “it should not detain, arrest, or take into custody for an administrative violation individuals known to be pregnant, postpartum, or nursing, unless release is prohibited by law or exceptional circumstances,” as officially stated by ICE’s memorandum.

Additionally, ICE has provided further guidance on mandated care for pregnant, postpartum, or nursing mothers. These care mandates include heavily minimizing the permitted use of restraints for these individuals, consistently monitoring and keeping records of their mental and physical health, and continually reevaluating whether or not the individual should remain detained. Proponents of the new policy are hopeful that these changes will increase the efficacy of care pregnant immigrants receive.

Trump Administration Immigration Policies

In 2018, ICE announced that Obama-era directives had been reversed by the Trump administration and that pregnant women in immigration detention would not be released based solely on their pregnancy status. This policy change was claimed to be a precautionary measure in order to ensure public safety. Pregnant women, ICE stated, would be detained on the grounds that they could be a threat to the American public.

Changing Attitudes Toward Detained Pregnant Women

This new 2022 policy shifts away from the harsh Trump immigration policy, in which ICE was allowed to freely detain pregnant women and give them the same sentences as other detainees. As said by ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson, the change “reflects our commitment to treat all individuals with respect and dignity while still enforcing our nation’s laws.” This new set of policies is taking a step toward providing humane treatment of immigrants in the United States.

Pregnant Immigrants in the US

In a 2020 report to Congress, ICE stated that all necessary measures are taken to ensure pregnant immigrants who are detained in custody are identified so that their medical needs can be addressed. However, keeping these women in detainment is a detriment to their health and the health of their unborn children. Following the passage of Trump-era immigration policies, pregnant immigrant detainees increased by 52%, which inevitably caused adverse health effects.

Preeclampsia, a pregnancy condition marked by dangerously high blood pressure, is a leading cause of maternal death. While external stress alone does not cause preeclampsia to develop in pregnant women, increased stress can exacerbate symptoms of preeclampsia and lead to harm in otherwise healthy women and babies.

New Policies for Pregnant and Nursing Immigrants

Since 2016, there have been more than 4,000 instances of undocumented pregnant women being arrested. In an effort to address the inhumane way pregnant immigrants in detainment have been treated in past years, the new policy eases the restrictions that were previously put into place. Undocumented women who are nursing, postpartum, or pregnant may not be detained or arrested by ICE officers. Despite the significant increase in the number of these women who were detained under Trump policies, the new rules are expected to ameliorate these conditions.

Although it only affects a handful of immigrants, President Biden’s new immigration policy is a welcomed reprieve from the strict standards set by the previous administration. It should also be noted that the new Biden policy only applies to ICE officials, not Customs and Border Protection agents. Border Patrol agents who detain migrants crossing the border typically hold them for a couple of days prior to transferring their custody to ICE.

Looking Forward for Pregnant Immigrants

Because the new policy was implemented with an executive order issued by President Biden, the future stability of the policy is unknown and precarious. Legislative action would provide a more concrete solution for pregnant, nursing, and postpartum immigrant women who become detained, but such a path seems unlikely any time soon. This uncertainty creates different problems for the many women who are currently and could eventually fall into this category.

Going back and forth from approach to approach is not only difficult for the migrant and immigrant populations but also for the agencies and government employees forced to comply with changing policies. Tending to the needs of even a steady migrant movement, much less a surge in immigrants can leave agencies feeling overwhelmed when they are unsure of how to apply shifting rules.

Legal Help for Your Immigration Needs

It is our hope at Passage Immigration that the future will be bright for pregnant and postpartum immigrant women, and legislative action would be a step in the right direction. Until then, President Biden’s policy provides much-needed relief for the women who pass through ICE detention. Through times of uncertainty, Passage Immigration can help you navigate challenging legal and immigration processes. If you have questions about how the current administration’s new policy will affect you or someone you love, or for answers to any other immigration-related concerns, please visit our website or call us at (503) 427-8243.

Image Courtesy of Voice in America


  1. AILA. “AILA – ICE Issues Updated Guidance in Identifying and Monitoring Pregnant, Postpartum, or Nursing Individuals.” American Immigration Lawyers Association, July 1, 2021. Link.
  2. Alvarez, Priscilla. “ICE Issues New Policy Guidance Discouraging Detention of Pregnant Women.” CNN. Cable News Network, July 9, 2021. Link.

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