Immigrants' rights advocates filed a complaint Tuesday with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security over what they say is the inhumane treatment of pregnant women being held in detention, including one who had a miscarriage.
The complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups asks DHS to investigate the cases of 10 women who were held at facilities in California, Texas, and Washington state.
It alleges that several women were held for weeks despite a memorandum issued last year by Thomas Homan, who is now acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees the custody of immigrants detained for having entered the United States illegally. That memo says pregnant women are generally not to be detained "absent extraordinary circumstances or the requirement of mandatory detention."
Lawyers and advocates for immigrants being held in detention facilities have long argued that the sites cause physical and psychological harm. Federal officials say immigrant detention is a necessary part of better border security and reducing illegal immigration.
ICE said in a statement that it gives pregnancy screenings to all women up to the age of 56, and offers prenatal care and access to specialists for women remaining in custody. An agency spokeswoman, Jennifer Elzea, said ICE was "committed to ensuring the health, safety, and welfare of all those in our care."
In one case cited in the complaint, a 31-year-old woman alleged that she did not receive medical attention after arriving at the San Ysidro port of entry in Southern California and telling agents she was pregnant, bleeding and in pain. She was eventually taken to the Otay Mesa Detention Center, where her pregnancy was confirmed. But several days later, staff at the facility found that she had miscarried.
Another woman, a 28-year-old from Honduras, alleged that staff at the family detention center in Dilley, Texas, incorrectly tested her as not being pregnant, even though she was. She and her 5-year-old child spent 16 days at Dilley, one of two family detention facilities in South Texas, according to the complaint.
Maria Solis, a pregnant mother of three from Oceanside, California, told Telemundo San Diego that she was in ICE custody for six weeks while awaiting a hearing. "I don't think I've ever been that scared," she said. The station did not receive a comment from ICE.
According to ICE, 33 women known to be pregnant are currently in the agency's custody. But Amy Fischer, policy director for the advocacy group RAICES, said some women don't disclose their pregnancies because they've been raped.
"It's immensely important for us to provide the narrative of what's happening inside," she said. "We have found that, at times, these types of complaints can in fact be really effective at not only changing ICE's policy, but also lifting the veil and the shadow of secrecy that exists over these detention facilities."