Pregnant Women are Being Abused and Neglected in Immigration Detention Centers

Between December 14, 2017 and April 7, 2018, 590 pregnant woman were booked into custody at immigration detention centers across the nation—where they were then denied sufficient medical care, like prenatal vitamins and regular OB-GYN appointments, and physically abused.

According to a report by BuzzFeed News, women held in detention centers describe being shackled around their stomachs and blatantly ignored when experiencing pregnancy-related complications like heavy bleeding, and they are at a staggering risk for miscarriage due to the blatant and shocking neglect officers show to their prenatal medical needs.

One migrant, who identified herself as E, fled El Salvador after finding out she was pregnant with the hope that coming to the U.S. would ensure a safe, supportive environment for her child. Instead, she quickly found herself in an ICE detention center in Luis, Arizona, and began miscarrying—but despite her heavy bleeding and begging for medical attention from the staff, she was ignored.

“An official arrived and they said it was not a hospital and they weren’t doctors. They wouldn’t look after me,” she told BuzzFeed News. “I realized I was losing my son. It was his life that I was bleeding out. I was staining everything. I spent about eight days just lying down. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t do anything. I started crying and crying and crying.” About a week after her conversation with BuzzFeed News, E accepted voluntary departure and was deported.

Up until this past December, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was under an Obama-era directive that prohibited the detainment of pregnant women, except in extreme circumstances—but under the Trump administration’s so-called zero tolerance policy, detainment of pregnant women not yet in their third trimester is now permitted. Moving forward, in accordance with Trump’s 2019 budget plan, which allots for 800 more beds in ICE detention centers, the number of pregnant migrant women facing these conditions will only increase.

BuzzFeed’s report shed shocking new light on Trump’s border crisis, and it once again brought the experiences of migrant women—many of whom are fleeing violence no longer seen as “qualifying” for asylum in the U.S. under Trump administration policies—to the front. That, in and of itself, is a powerful form of justice for women like E who have been suffering in the shadows. Now, these stories must serve as mobilizers.

“We need to hold our politicians accountable by writing letters and sharing stories. We need to focus on grassroots advocacy and public education—and part of that involves taking members stories and taking them to legislators,” Tasmiha Khan, Associate Campaign Director of MomsRising, told Ms. “It doesn’t matter if you’re documented or undocumented. This is life at stake.”


Madeleine Gatto is a former editorial intern at Ms. She is currently majoring in journalism and minoring in communication policy and law at the University of Southern California. Her passion for feminist writing and research began when she was a part of her high school's Girls Learn International chapter and Women's Awareness club. Despite the fact that her last name means cat in Italian, she's most definitely a dog person.