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Biden admin blocks ICE from detaining pregnant, nursing, postpartum women caught crossing border

Except in special circumstances, expectant mothers and those who have given birth up to one year previously won't be detained by ICE.
Image: Asylum-seeking migrants cross the Rio Grande river in Roma, TX
Asylum-seeking migrants board an inflatable raft on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande river before crossing into the U.S. in Roma, Texas, on July 7, 2021.Go Nakamura / Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration released a new policy on Friday that largely prohibits the detention of pregnant, nursing and postpartum women who have been caught crossing the border illegally.

The policy states that except in special circumstances where a woman's detention is mandatory, expectant mothers and those who have given birth up to one year previously will not be detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

"Given the unique needs of this population, we will not detain individuals known to be pregnant, postpartum or nursing unless release is prohibited by law or exceptional circumstances exist. This reflects our commitment to treat all individuals with respect and dignity while still enforcing our nation's laws," said Acting ICE Director Tae Johnson.

Previously, ICE refrained from detaining pregnant women — a policy that was only halted temporarily under the Trump administration. A DHS official said the new policy codifies that existing practice and expands it to include those with children under one.

The Biden administration has drastically scaled back the detention of women with their children, using previous family detention centers only as staging areas before they are released to await court dates. The official said this policy will keep that in place for mothers and young children.

Immigrants' rights organizations applauded the decision.

"This action by the Biden administration is a welcome step in the right direction. This move brings us closer to more humane treatment by ICE of people who are pregnant, postpartum, or nursing," said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney with the National Prison Project of the ACLU. "ICE should stop detaining or arresting people who would be at particular risk in detention, must implement robust oversight of detention facilities, and ensure the release of all people who would be particularly vulnerable in detention."