On Feb. 22, a 24-year-old Honduran woman who had been detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and was in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) went into premature labor at 27 weeks pregnant and delivered a stillborn baby, according to a joint statement by both agencies released Monday.
According to the agencies, the woman, whose name is being withheld, was detained near Hidalgo, TX on Feb. 18. She was being processed for release when she began complaining of abdominal pains. She was examined by ICE Health Service Corps and before emergency responders could arrive to take her to the hospital, she delivered the stillborn male infant at the Port Isabel Detention Center.
ICE has denied any culpability in the incident, saying in a statement that, "Although for investigative and reporting purposes, a stillbirth is not considered an in-custody death, ICE and CBP officials are proactively disclosing the details of this tragic event to be transparent with Congress, the media, and the public."
This policy seems at odds with the stance taken by President Donald Trump, who has made clear that the administration’s position is that "life begins at conception." In his most recent State of the Union address, Trump used graphic and incorrect language to describe abortion, vowing to protect the "dignity of every person." Other than his oftentimes cruel, tough on immigration crusade, Trump’s commitment to being the most "pro-life" president is the platform he has been most consistent on. One is left to wonder why the delivery of a stillborn baby by a migrant woman in ICE custody was not considered an in-custody death.
Nancy Cárdenas Peña, director for state policy and advocacy in Texas with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, told Refinery29 in an interview Tuesday that this is just another example of the anti-choice movement being selective with their narrative. “They get to pick and choose what is most convenient to their argument,” she said of ICE not recognizing the woman’s stillbirth as a death. “When you’re talking about a woman who was six months pregnant when she entered [the detention facility] and had every right to have her child, was trying to sustain that pregnancy and then was incarcerated … there should be some focus and some attention to actually clarifying what exactly constitutes an in-custody death or not. This was still an abhorrent violation of a person’s human rights. They robbed that person of sustaining a healthy pregnancy by incarcerating them at their own discretion.”
Cárdenas Peña, who has worked directly with the detention center where the woman was held, said that conditions in these facilities regularly lead to health issues, especially among pregnant women. "There is no conducive way to be incarcerated and be healthy or sustain a pregnancy within incarceration, especially inside a detention center," she said. "We hear about folks being shackled. We hear about negligent maternal and prenatal care and this isn’t the first time someone has endured something like this … they tell us they’re providing excellent medical care and then stuff like this happens"
She noted that ICE policies and directives are often cloudy and contradictory and that the woman could’ve been released immediately under the agency’s discretion. In December 2017, ICE implemented a policy of detaining pregnant women not yet in their third trimester. Under the Obama administration, pregnant women could not be detained except for rare occasions. “Even though they set up specifics for what kind of folks who are pregnant, at whatever stage may be detained, it’s seldom followed through,” Cárdenas Peña said. “They have the discretion to let people go and there was no reason this woman was incarcerated in the first place.”
This is the third death of a minor in immigration custody in just a few months. In December, 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez and 7-year-old Jakelin Ameí Rosmery Caal Maquin — both from Guatemala — died while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. BuzzFeed News previously reported on migrant women who say they miscarried in immigration detention being shackled and denied proper medical care.
As of this writing, President Trump has yet to address the migrant woman’s stillbirth but has railed against Senate Democrats voting against an arcane abortion law, tweeting, "If there is one thing we should all agree on, it’s protecting the lives of innocent babies."
“This is not just an immigration issue, it’s a reproductive justice issue,” Cárdenas Peña said.
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