Report: Customs officials held 40 ‘low-priority’ pregnant immigrants in one facility

By Arturo R. García

Despite designating pregnant undocumented immigrants as “low-priority” targets for incarceration, officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) imprisoned 40 pregnant women at a detention facility in Texas while claiming not to keep “specific records” on detainees’ pregnancy status, Fusion reported on Tuesday.

Records obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request showed the women were held at the El Paso Processing Center last year, following a January 2014 report that 13 pregnant women were being detained at the facility during a four-month period, despite ICE officially stating that they should not be placed in detention centers “absent extraordinary circumstances.”

When Fusion filed a FOIA request looking for data on how many pregnant women were being detained in the agency’s 250 centers around the country, ICE responded with a statement saying it did not “maintain specific records” regarding that kind of information.

“I’m not sure what they know,” Silky Shah, interim executive director of the Detention Watch Network, an immigrants’ advocacy group. “There is a risk assessment tool, which we know has been implemented that should be keeping track of who is pregnant and who is going into detention, and they should have those numbers. How that’s being tracked, I’m not sure.”

Fusion also reported that, within days of receiving their initial requests, the agency released five pregnant detainees from the El Paso facility and stated that it was “re-running the data request” regarding its later FOIA filings.

One detainee, 27-year-old Sugey Carrazco, told Fusion that she is one of seven pregnant women being detained at ICE’s detention center in Otay Mesa, California, and that she has been denied necessary nutritional supplements because facility policy mandates that the last meal of the day be served at 4 p.m. Carrazco is seeking asylum from Mexico to join her two sons in the U.S.

While ICE did not confirm how many pregnant women are being detained at the Otay facility, the agency released a statement saying Carrazco “underwent an initial medical exam by the ICE Health Service Corps’ clinical director” and that she “continues to receive professional prenatal care while she awaits the outcome of her case.”