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Detention of Pregnant Immigrants

is discouraged by official policy, but the administration is detaining them anyway


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Why It Matters

  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) used to have limits on detaining pregnant immigrants that almost always required releasing them on bond or under supervision.

  • However, the Trump-Pence administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy aimed to prosecute every person crossing the border. Even though Trump walked back the aspect of “zero tolerance” that separated immigrant families, prosecution of immigrants at the Southern border is still a top priority.

  • Now, ICE has expanded power to detain pregnant immigrants — including those seeking asylum.

Key Players

Donald Trump

President of the United States

Elected to Office: 11-8-2016
Mike Pence

Vice President of the United States

Elected to Office: 11-8-2016
Jeff Sessions

Former U.S. Attorney General (DOJ)

Resigned: 11-07-2018
William Barr

U.S. Attorney General (DOJ)

Nominated by Trump: 1-3-2019
Scott Lloyd

Former Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (HHS)

Resigned: June 2019

How We Got Here & Where We're Headed


  • What to expect next
    The administration’s immigration crackdown may continue to harm pregnant immigrants
  • 2-24-2020
    Public charge rule goes into effect nationwide
  • 1-27-2020
    Supreme Court rules that the administration can use its new “public charge” standard while lawsuits against it go forward

  • 9-1-2019
    Supreme Court temporarily permits third-country rule, which denies most asylum claims at the Southern border
  • 8-21-2019
    Trump administration announced a final "family detention" rule that would allow the administration to detain children indefinitely
  • 8-12-2019
    Trump administration issues final “public charge” rule designed to stop immigrants from accessing public benefits to which they are legally entitled
  • 7-16-2019
    Rule issued that makes immigrants ineligible for U.S. asylum if they passed through Mexico — denying asylum to nearly all South American immigrants
  • 3-5-2019
    The Senate reintroduced a bill to stop the detention of pregnant immigrants
  • 3-1-2019
    Increase in miscarriages among detainees spurs calls for an investigation
View more +
  • 11-9-2018
    Trump announces a policy to severely restrict asylum for immigrants
  • 10-10-2018 
    Rule proposed to keep low-income immigrants from entering or staying in the U.S.
  • 9-7-2018
    Proposed family detention rule to let U.S. jail immigrant children indefinitely
  • 6-11-2018
    Jeff Sessions says immigrants fleeing
    domestic violence don’t qualify for asylum
  • 4-6-2018
    U.S. sharply increases
    separation of immigrant families at the border
  • 3-27-2018
    Administration says it plans to add a
    citizenship question to the 2020 Census
  • 12-18-2017
    Refugee office head says he
    interfered with undocumented women’s abortion access
  • 12-14-2017
    Administration starts detaining
    pregnant immigrants during legal proceedings
  • 10-10-2017
    ACLU sues ORR for blocking a detained undocumented woman’s
    access to abortion
  • 9-5-2017
    The administration announces it’s ending DACA




“My soul aches that there are many pregnant women coming [to America] who could lose their babies like I did.”

The Effects

The move to hold pregnant immigrants in custody during their immigration proceedings is having devastating effects on the detained women and their families.

The number of undocumented women who had miscarriages while in government detention nearly doubled across the Trump-Pence administration’s first two years. Earlier reports showed that the overall number of pregnant people in detention rose to 506 in the first four months after the policy took effect — nearly double what it was in the previous four months. Those harmful consequences are linked to a severe lack of prenatal care for undocumented immigrants in custody.

Background on Detaining Pregnant Immigrants

Changing the Policy in Secret

The new policy of proactively detaining pregnant immigrants went into effect in December 2017, but the administration didn’t officially announce the change until March 2018.

Washington Post
Doubling of Miscarriages From One Year to the Next

Ten migrant women appear to have miscarried just prior to or during ICE custody between October 2016 and September 2017, and 18 migrant women may have miscarried while in ICE custody the following year, according to a review of medical records. Advocates say the sharp increase could be rooted in the Trump-Pence administration’s new policy of detaining pregnant women.

Daily Beast
The Dangers of Shackling Pregnant Women

Shackling someone who is pregnant, especially in the second or third trimester, can cause issues with the pregnancy — including increased risk of blood clots and falling — and make it harder for medical professionals to provide care.

Abusing, Shackling Pregnant Detainees

Pregnant detainees have reported ICE verbally abused them, didn’t provide medical care, and physically hurt them — including shackling them around the stomach.

Buzzfeed News
ICE’s Harm of Pregnant Detainees

Immigrant and human rights groups have filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security about ICE’s inadequate care and harm of pregnant detainees.

San Antonio Current
Interfering in Detained Refugees’ Access to Abortion

In addition to not taking care of the pregnant immigrants in detention, the administration has tried to block young immigrant women in detention from their constitutional right to access safe, legal abortion.

Tracking Trump: Scott Lloyd

Related Issues

Separating Immigrant Families


Immigrant Access to Abortion

Public Benefits for Immigrants

Legal Status for Dreamers

2020 Census

The Muslim Ban

Pregnant Travelers