Maloney Report Prompts Scramble to Protect Pregnant ICE Detainees

Street Sign to Asylum
Street Sign the Direction Way to Asylum

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Greenpoint, Manhattan, Queens) issued a startling report this week highlighting various instances where federal immigration authorities physically and verbally abused pregnant undocumented immigrants.

The report titled “Care of Pregnant Women in DHS Facilities” also documented that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) agents detained thousands of pregnant women while subjecting them to medical neglect, posting of images and information about detainees on social media, and putting them in solitary confinement.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney

“This independent report documents troubling instances of inadequate care and complaints of mistreatment of these vulnerable pregnant women,”   said Maloney, chair of the House Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee and who co-published the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report with U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md) on Tuesday.

“This report comes at a time when the Administration is refusing to release hundreds of pregnant women and other medically at-risk individuals who are vulnerable to the coronavirus in crowded detention facilities,” she added.

A spokesperson for ICE denied any wrongdoing on the agency’s part, suggesting the outrage over the report’s findings was baseless.

“As made evident by the recent Government Accounting Office report regarding the treatment of pregnant detainees, ICE is committed to ensuring the health, safety, and welfare of pregnant women in our care by providing pregnancy screenings upon intake, and on-site prenatal care and education, as well as remote access to specialists for pregnant women who remain in custody,” an ICE spokesperson told KCP.

“ICE is committed to ensuring that those in our custody reside in safe, secure, and humane environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement. Allegations of maltreatment and inadequate care for detainees in ICE custody are contrary to the facts and findings of the GAO report,” the spokesperson added.

Despite ICE’s defense of the detainees, city and state officials have started taking additional steps to protect pregnant women in ICE custody.

City Councilman Carlos Menchaca

“The report’s finding comes at an alarming moment especially considering Trump completely botched the emergency response to the COVID-19 endemic. Unfortunately, those families with loved ones in detention have to deal with both the worry that their loved one might be infected and die while detained and trying to pay their bills after losing their job,” said City Council Member Carlos Menchaca (D-Red Hook, Sunset Park) chair of the council’s Immigration Committee.

“Despite this federal incompetence, I am working closely with legal service providers, like the New York Family Unity Project, to ensure lawyers are still readily accessible to immigrants in detention and employing every tool, like appealing to the federal courts so we can release pregnant women and other at-risk immigrants who are unjustly detained. Most importantly, I am working to ensure our immigrant neighbors have the nutritional and financial resources they need during this crisis.”

Julia Salazar
State Sen. Julia Salazar

Meanwhile, State Sen. Julia Salazar (Bushwick, Greenpoint, Williamsburg), chair of Senate Women’s Issues Committee, used the report’s findings to urge passage of a bill that would help pregnant women vulnerable to DHS detention.

“I applaud the House Oversight and Reform Committee for bringing this information to light,” she said. “In New York State, we must pass my legislation S7562, which would prohibit the disclosure of immigration status from our state’s police officers and other local and state entities to ICE and the use of New York’s public resources for immigration enforcement. This was already paramount for protecting human rights in our state and is made more urgent by the deadly pandemic which is currently running rampant in all types of correctional or detention facilities. We need to immediately free all pregnant prisoners of ICE and as many other detainees as possible both for public health reasons and to protect New Yorkers’ human rights.”

Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria, Woodside), chair of the Assembly Women’s Issues Task Force, expressed horror over the report’s findings, calling them “outrageous.” 

“ICE is keeping pregnant immigrants in overcrowded, deplorable conditions and forcing them to endure extreme measures, including giving birth standing up,” she told New York County Politics.

 “Every human is entitled to proper healthcare, and especially during the vulnerable period of pregnancy. ICE agents should look at themselves in the mirror and decide whether they would wish these horrific conditions upon their own loved ones. Clearly the answer is no. ICE must do the right thing; release all pregnant immigrants now.”  

City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal (D-Upper West Side, Hell’s Kitchen, Central Park), chair of the Council’s Committee on Women and Gender Equity agreed, tying the report’s findings to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“People in federal detention face exceptional mistreatment, and the experiences of pregnant women embody that fact,” she said. “The New York City Council has no legal authority over federal detention centers, but I strongly echo Representative Maloney and Raskin’s urgent call that the Trump Administration release non-violent detainees. This should be done to prevent widespread and totally unnecessary COVID-19 exposure and infection within the centers.”