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Pregnant Immigrants and Asylum Seekers During COVID-19

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The U.S. government has exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to further eviscerate humanitarian and human rights protections for immigrants and people seeking asylum along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Since March 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has used a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order to block and expel more than 109,000 migrants and people seeking asylum, including unaccompanied children. That CDC order has been indefinitely extended. Pregnant people are among the marginalized populations acutely affected by this order. Since the start of the pandemic, immigrant rights organizations have documented harrowing accounts of pregnant people who were mistreated in DHS custody, denied medical treatment while in labor, and forcibly expelled to unsafe locations in Mexico days after giving birth.

This issue brief outlines evidence of the mistreatment of pregnant immigrants and people seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border and in U.S. immigration detention, and discusses how existing policies have created the conditions for escalating human rights abuses during COVID-19. This issue brief supports public health guidance and human rights standards directing the release of all people in immigration detention during the pandemic, but focuses on a subset of reforms that are urgently needed to ensure the health and safety of pregnant asylum seekers and immigrants during and long after the pandemic.

Immediate action is needed to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of pregnant migrants and asylum seekers during and long after the pandemic.

  • In addition to the urgent need for releases from immigration detention during the pandemic, we call upon Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to, at minimum, reinstate and implement the policy of presumptive release for pregnant people. DHS can further strengthen protections by issuing a directive immediately prohibiting ICE from detaining any person who is pregnant or postpartum and requiring the release of any person found to be pregnant or postpartum in detention.

  • As Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processes people seeking asylum and other protections at the border, the amount of time those individuals, including pregnant people and their families, spend in CBP custody should be minimized and need not exceed a few hours.

  • Congress should direct ICE and CBP to allow third party monitoring and meaningful government oversight of the treatment of pregnant people in their custody.

  • To ensure the protection of pregnant people seeking asylum, the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services should immediately withdraw the CDC order, and DHS should restore the orderly and safe processing and parole or release of people seeking asylum.