Rubia Morales, an asylum-seeker from El Salvador, had a miscarriage in January 2018 while detained in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Otay Mesa. She blames the guards for her loss and filed a lawsuit against both the contractor that runs the facility (CoreCivic) and the federal government, according to NBC.
“Ms. Morales is not the only woman who has miscarried at that facility,” said Joy Bertrand, Morales’ lawyer. “It gets to a point where this is no longer simply an issue of incompetence.”
Records show that the majority of women in immigration detention facilities are from Mexico and Central American countries – with a slight majority being from Guatemala, followed by Honduras and El Salvador.
Department of Homeland Security figures obtained by NBC show an increase in pregnant women detained at the Otay Mesa facility since 2017. That year, when the Trump administration implemented the zero-tolerance immigration policy, it simultaneously lifted the protection of pregnant women in detention (which was only allowed if the subject posed a serious threat). There has been a noticeable uptick in pregnant detentions since then. In fact, more than 500 women were detained in the four months immediately after the lift, according to Planned Parenthood.
In March 2019, Sen. Patty Murray reintroduced the Stop Shackling and Detaining Pregnant Women Act along with 24 co-sponsors in Congress. The proposed bill would require access to all health care services for pregnant detainees.
Morales asked guards at Otay Mesa for help several times prior to her miscarriage. In the week leading up to it, she experienced excessive bleeding and cramping. She collapsed in line for food after going unchecked and lost the baby soon after.
“A pregnant woman who bleeds for days needs to be seen,” licensed midwife Kayti Buehler told NBC. “That’s a human right. I think that in an ICE detention facility, you could absolutely meet pregnant people’s needs. It’s important for their life, for the life of their baby, and if you ask me, the health of our country, too.”