The Trump administration said Thursday that it ended special considerations to generally release pregnant women charged with being in the United States illegally while their cases wind through immigration court.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it scrapped a policy that took effect in August 2016 that pregnant women should be released unless they met limited criteria that required them to be held by law, such as serious criminal histories, or if there were "extraordinary circumstances."
The new policy, which took effect in December but wasn't announced until Thursday, gives no blanket special consideration to pregnancy, though the agency says each case will be reviewed individually and women in their third trimester will generally be released.
The move is the latest effort to scrap immigration policies created in the final two years of Barack Obama's administration. Shortly after Trump took office, rules that generally limited deportations to convicted criminals, public safety threats and recent border crossers were lifted, making anyone in the country illegally vulnerable. Deportation arrests have spiked more than 40 percent under Trump's watch.
Administration officials said new rules on pregnant women aligned with the president's executive orders last year for heightened immigration enforcement.
"All across our enforcement portfolio, we're no longer exempting any individual from being subject to the law," said Philip Miller, deputy executive associate director of ICE's enforcement and removal operations.
Women and immigrant advocacy groups, many who have criticized medical care at immigrant detention centers, swiftly condemned the change.
While authorities made clear that it would review cases individually and that officers may consider pregnancy, the new policy shifts the focus more toward detention.
"It's basically a different starting point," said Michelle Brané, the Women's Refugee Commission's director of migrant rights and justice program and a frequent critic of immigration detention. "They're shifting the presumption. There used to be a presumption that detention was not a good place for pregnant women."
"This new policy further exposes the cruelty of Trump's detention and deportation force by endangering the lives of pregnant immigrant women," said Victoria Lopez, senior staff counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.
U.S. officials said it was unclear how many women would be affected by the new policy. Immigration and Customs Enforcement took 506 pregnant women into custody since the new policy took effect in December and had 35 last week.
Immigration authorities are required by law to hold certain people regardless of pregnancy, including people convicted of crimes listed in the Immigration and Naturalization Act or placed in fast-track removal proceedings when they are arrested crossing the border.
Officials say it's unclear how many women who would have been released under the old policy will now be held.