A new story by Cristina Costantini at Fusion provides the latest illustration of the gap that exists between policy and practice in the world of immigration enforcement. ICE isn’t supposed to be detaining pregnant immigrant women, who might require care that ICE isn’t capable of providing and who can be monitored via other methods. As Costantini writes:
The agency’s policy says that detaining pregnant or nursing women is low on their priority list. The directive states that resources should be spent on locking up people whose cases are top priority, like those who have formerly broken immigration laws, are threats to public safety, or have been convicted of crimes.
In order to detain pregnant women, agents require special permission from field office directors. The agency uses alternative forms of monitoring, like ankle bracelets, for low-priority detainees. Advocates, including the Women’s Refugee Commission, are concerned that ICE facilities just aren’t set up to handle the medical and nutritional needs of pregnant women and prolonged detention could result in harm to the mother or her unborn child.
Yet a tip-off from an undocumented activist who infiltrated the El Paso Processing Center last month led to Fusion finding 13 cases of detained pregnant women in that center between August and November of 2013. It remains unknown how many pregnant women are detained nationally–ICE, not surprisingly, doesn’t keep those numbers.
One detainee, Mariamo Ajagbe–originally from Nigeria–miscarried while at the El Paso facility. ICE originally denied that the miscarriage even occurred, though Ajagbe’s lawyer provided Fusion with documents stating that she had developed a condition which always results in a miscarriage. Late yesterday, after Fusion’s story was published, ICE issued a statement taking back their claim, and acknowledging that Ajagbe did, indeed, miscarry. However, the agency continued to insist on their belief that “her condition occurred independently of circumstances of her confinement.”