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Reps. Bass, Grijalva and Nadler, Call for End to Incarceration of Pregnant Women Following Long-Awaited Release of GAO Report on Mistreatment of Pregnant Women in DHS Detention Facilities

April 23, 2020
Press Release
WASHINGTON— In November 2017, Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) led 30 Members of Congress in requesting a Government Accountability Report (GAO) on the alleged mistreatment of pregnant women in ICE detention facilities, after numerous reports of horrific conditions in ICE custody—including solitary confinement and the denial of adequate healthcare. This week, the long-awaited GAO report was released.

In December 2017, the Department of Homeland Security updated its policy on the detention of pregnant woman that reversed previous guidance that discouraged incarcerating pregnant women barring extraordinary circumstances. The number of detentions decreased from 1,380 in calendar year 2016 to 1,160 in 2017, and then increased to 2,098 in calendar year 2018. The report found over 4,600 detentions of pregnant women between 2016 and 2018 and found that detention standards addressing care varied by facility. Only two of the eight facilities have access to prenatal vitamins and 39 percent of detention days were spent at detention centers with lower standards of care. Compliance with protocols for pregnant detainees also varied by center and ranging from 53 percent compliant to 100 percent compliant.

“This report confirms what we had been hearing from advocates for years: pregnant women in detention centers are not being treated properly,” said Rep. Bass. “Some facilities are compliant on merely 53% of protocols for pregnant women who are incarcerated and many facilities are unable to provide full care that pregnant women require. It is wrong to keep them detained and subjected to this abuse, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact the disease has on pregnant mothers and their children is unknown. We should not take any risk. This is wrong.”

“I would like to thank GAO for conducting a thorough and necessary investigation to help us better understand an issue that has been largely hidden from view,” said Rep. Grijalva. “It is clear that pregnant women do not belong in detention, especially after some of the findings of this report. GAO found that detentions of non-criminal pregnant women accounted for between 91 to 97 percent of the total detentions of pregnant women each year. With many facilities lacking the full spectrum of care that pregnant women require, it is unconscionable to keep them incarcerated and subjected to extreme stress and trauma. It’s clear DHS does not have uniform, adequate policies to protect and provide for pregnant women in detention and that this population would be much better served in community-based alternatives to detention. The Trump Administration is moving us in the opposite direction, potentially endangering pregnant women, and must change this policy now. Make no mistake, this is a vulnerable population that needs access to the highest quality of care—not a dangerous population that deserves to be demonized.” 

“This report is just another reminder of the lack of suitable healthcare in immigration detention facilities. It is shameful but not surprising that the detention of pregnant women shot up over 50 percent in the first full fiscal year of the Trump Administration and ICE was unable to follow its own paltry guidelines 20 percent of the time,” said Chairman Nadler. “Unfortunately, these horrible conditions have also helped COVID-19 spread through the ICE detention system. Since ICE appears unable to protect vulnerable populations it should look for ways to reduce its detention population by employing community based alternatives.”

Click here to read the GAO report request.

Click here to read the full report.