The Biden administration has directed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to avoid arresting people who are pregnant, nursing or postpartum, according to a memo obtained by The Hill. The document also set new guidelines for how these women are to be treated once in government custody.
"Generally ICE should not detain, arrest or take into custody for an administrative violation of the immigration laws individuals known to be pregnant, postpartum or nursing unless release is prohibited by law or exceptional circumstances exist," wrote ICE acting Director Tae Johnson in a memo dated July 1.
Johnson said officers should get permission from higher-up officials before detaining anyone who is nursing or pregnant.
The directive uses gender-neutral language, which means the guidance can be applied to transgender men and anyone postpartum who has given birth within a year.
In that case, Johnson directs agents to house postpartum detainees in "an appropriate facility to manage their care" once in custody.
This policy reverses a 2017 memo issued during the Trump administration, which removed guidance related to detaining pregnant women. In September 2017, the ACLU and seven other organizations filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and its Office of Inspector General describing dangerous conditions for pregnant women in custody, including physical abuse and delays in prenatal treatment. The complaint included testimony from ten women, including multiple who suffered miscarriages while in custody.
In an ICE notice sent to members of Congress, acting Director Tae Johnson said the change "reflects our commitment to treat all individuals with respect and dignity while still enforcing our nation's laws."
There are roughly 27,008 immigrants in ICE custody, according to the agency.
Victoria López, Senior Staff Attorney for ACLU National Prison Project, argues that ICE can't provide the healthcare that pregnant women need.
"Pregnancy is a serious medical issue that requires close monitoring and attention, which ICE is not equipped to provide. Locking up more pregnant women is cruel, and puts them needlessly at risk," writes López.