RELEASE: Women and Girls in Immigration Detention Are Being Stripped of Their Health and Rights

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress released a new report that looks at how women and girls in immigration detention fare and how immigration enforcement authorities are jeopardizing their maternal health, reproductive autonomy, and mental health. The report follows a 2017 decision by the Trump administration to end a policy that presumed release from immigration detention for pregnant women. The report finds:

  • The proportion of women in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody has surged from 2009 to 2016. Meanwhile, the length of average detention increased substantially.
  • From October 2017 through August 2018, ICE reportedly detained 1,655 pregnant women. In fiscal years 2017 and 2018, a reported 28 women had miscarriages in ICE custody. Simultaneously, Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) personnel undermined access to reproductive health care—with former ORR Director Scott Lloyd not approving a single request from a minor seeking an abortion. Those who were able to receive an abortion did so only after a court had intervened.
  • Detention adds to the trauma of women and girls who have often experienced gender-based violence. Of more than 8,400 reports of solitary confinement in ICE detention from 2012 to early 2017, more than half involved a person placed in solitary confinement for more than 15 days, and about one-third of cases involved a person with a mental illness.
  • Of 1,224 complaints of sexual abuse in Department of Homeland Security custody between January 2010 and September 2017, only 43 were investigated; 59 percent of alleged perpetrators were identified as detention officers or private contractors. In fiscal year 2017, LGBTQ people in ICE detention were 97 times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than non-LGBTQ people.

The report also includes a series of policy recommendations, including:

  • Reinstate presumption of release for pregnant people in detention
  • Ban the practice of shackling pregnant people in detention
  • Increase congressional oversight for how immigration enforcement agencies are enforcing health care standards for women and girls in immigration detention
  • End the process of federal government agencies sharing information about children in ORR custody and their potential sponsors
  • Ban the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention
  • Ensure agencies detaining immigrants are implementing culturally competent, trauma-informed standards of medical and mental health care
  • Limit the detention of vulnerable groups—including pregnant people, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and survivors of trauma

“The Trump administration’s policies and personnel have systematically jeopardized the health and rights of women and girls in detention,” said Nora Ellmann, research assistant for women’s health and rights with CAP’s Women’s Initiative. “Not only are women and girls in detention being denied access to basic health care services, but those lucky enough to receive care are often being ill-served. Policymakers must conduct aggressive oversight of immigration enforcement agencies to ensure they uphold the health and rights of every individual, but especially women.”

Please click here to read: “Immigration Detention Is Dangerous for Women’s Health and Rights” by Nora Ellmann

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Colin Seeberger at or 202-741-6292.