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End Near for Shackling of Pregnant Women

Mass Incarceration
Mass Incarceration
Joanne Lin,
Senior Legislative Counsel,
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January 21, 2014

The massive $1.1 trillion spending bill (“omnibus”) passed by Congress last week and signed into law by President Obama includes a significant victory: a provision aimed at ending the atrocious practice of shackling pregnant women in immigration detention facilities.

Yes, you read that right. The shackling of pregnant women being held in immigration detention is still a thing in the United States.

In fact, a Fusion investigation found that an El Paso, Texas, immigration detention center held 13 pregnant women between August and November of 2013—the official ICE spokesperson’s initial response to the event? “We don’t detain pregnant women.”

Thankfully, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) was able to get language included in the omnibus that she and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) had originally drafted as an amendment to the Senate immigration reform bill, requiring ICE to “ensure all detention contracts and agreements implement the Use of Force exception for all pregnant women in ICE detention.”

Because one half of all ICE detainees are held in county jails, this language represents an important step in unifying detention standards for these facilities and upholding basic humane and safe practices. Currently, pregnant prisoners may be shackled, and sometimes even forced to give birth while shackled, depending on the state: Though 18 states have enacted laws prohibiting or restricting shackling of pregnant prisoners, the other 32 states have no laws protecting women from these practices. This incongruity occurs despite existing official ICE policy that states that pregnant women “shall not be restrained absent truly extraordinary circumstances,” and that “restraints are never permitted on women who are in active labor or delivery.”

Though not all is positive in the omnibus appropriations bill, this provision is a hard-fought civil liberties victory will make sure that ICE, rather than turn a blind eye, holds local facilities accountable.

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