Biden Team to Stop Detaining Most Pregnant, Nursing Migrants

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The Biden administration will no longer detain most pregnant, nursing or postpartum migrant women who face deportation, the latest move to reverse former President Donald Trump’s immigration detention policies.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a new policy Friday that rescinded a Trump-era measure permitting officials to jail thousands of migrants carrying children or caring for infants.

The policy is more expansive than the Obama administration’s, which allowed for pregnant women accused of immigration violations to be detained but then released while they awaited court proceedings. The Biden policy also covers women who gave birth within the last 12 months and women who are nursing.

The new policy protects “the health and safety of pregnant, postpartum and nursing individuals,” acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Tae Johnson said in a statement.

“Given the unique needs of this population, we will not detain individuals known to be pregnant, postpartum or nursing unless release is prohibited or exceptional circumstances exist,” Johnson said. “This reflects our commitment to treat all individuals with respect and dignity while still enforcing our nation’s laws.”

The number of detained migrants rose sharply under Trump. Between 2016 and 2018, ICE detained more than 4,500 pregnant women, according to a 2020 report by the Government Accountability Office. Two thirds were kept in custody for less than a week, and about 10% were in detention for more than a month.

But the detentions have started to climb under Biden as well, worrying immigrant-rights activists who have urged the president to keep his campaign pledge to make the U.S. immigration system more humane.

A total of 27,217 people were held in ICE detention as of Thursday, up from less than 14,000 at the end of March, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Research Access Clearinghouse.

Pregnant and postpartum women may still be detained by ICE if they pose “an imminent risk of death, violence, or physical harm” or represent a national security concern. In those exceptional cases, a field office director must approve the arrest and detention.

The new Biden policy easing restrictions on pregnant women will not apply to migrants in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection — usually the first agency to encounter and detain migrants before they are transferred to ICE.

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