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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.

  • The Trump administration expanded ICE's 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


  • 12-7-2020
    DACA starts accepting new applications and is fully reinstated to what it was before the Trump administration tried to end the program in 2017

  • 12-4-2020
    A federal judge orders the Trump administration to fully restore DACA and open the program to new applicants for the first time since 2017

  • 12-2-2020
    A federal appeals court rules against the Trump-Pence administration’s public charge rule and safeguards immigrants’ access to public benefits in part of the country — while other public charge lawsuits play out

  • 9-29-2020
    The Office of Refugee Resettlement stops its policy of blocking, interfering with, and nonconsensually communicating about young immigrant’s access to abortion care

  • 9-14-2020
    Immigrants being held in a Georgia detention center file a whistleblower complaint that alleges high rates of hysterectomies performed on unwilling detained immigrants

  • 6-18-2020
    The U.S. Supreme Court rules to strike down the administration’s efforts to dismantle DACA, protecting at least 700,000 young immigrants who have grown up in the United States from deportation
  • 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 it to detain children indefinitely; the rule is enjoined the next month
  • 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 immigrant


“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 had 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 Trump administration 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 said the sharp increase could be rooted in the Trump-Pence administration’s 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 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 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 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