Immigration and Customs Enforcement is ending a policy of presuming that a pregnant woman should be released from immigration custody.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers will now take the woman's pregnancy into consideration as well as whether or not they assess her to be a flight risk, or a danger to the community, the department said.
When a pregnant immigrant is detained, ICE will notify the Enforcement and Removal Operations, Homeland Security Investigations, Field Office Directors, and Special Agents in Charge.
The change in policy could pave the way for more pregnant women to be held in detention facilities while they await lengthy court proceedings about whether they can stay in the U.S., facilities that are already decried by critics for tough conditions.
The changes came after President Donald Trump's Executive Order, Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, which directs ICE to remove all undocumented immigrants from the country.
"ICE detention facilities will continue to provide onsite prenatal care and education, as well as remote access to specialists for pregnant women who remain in custody".
"To miscategorize this as some wholesale change, or some kind of draconian act is really hyperbole", he told reporters on a conference call. The administration changed the Obama-era policy in December.
Pregnant women have not fared much better with ICE lately. Since then, Miller said 506 pregnant women have been detained without the previous protections, according to Reuters. Between October 2016 and September 2017, a total of 525 pregnant detainees were taken into ICE custody, the Los Angeles Times reported, with 33 still detained by late September.
Women and immigrant advocacy groups, many who have criticized medical care at immigrant detention centers, swiftly condemned the change.
"It's basically a different starting point", said Michelle Brané, the Women's Refugee Commission's director of migrant rights and justice program and a frequent critic of immigration detention.
"Being in detention is not an appropriate setting for not just a pregnant woman, but a pregnant woman who may or may not be pregnant as a result of a significant trauma like that", she said. She was one of ten women whose experiences were documented in a complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union with the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Civil Rights and Office of the Inspector General in September a year ago, describing poor medical treatment for women who were detained while pregnant or had recently suffered miscarriages.