In 2020, let’s recognize immigration as a reproductive justice issue

Nearly one year ago, in February 2019, a 24-year-old Honduran woman in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody went into premature labor while 27 weeks pregnant. The federal immigration agency failed to transport the woman to a hospital in a timely manner, and she gave birth to a stillborn at the Port Isabel Detention Center in Texas. Days after the news of this tragic story broke, I spoke to Nancy Cárdenas Peña, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health’s (NLIRH) Texas director for policy and advocacy. Peña was raw with emotion and inconsolable. The conversation we had then has haunted me throughout the year, and it has also reaffirmed my commitment to continue covering immigration as a reproductive justice issue and to urge other journalists to do the same.

During our interview, Peña was pained as she explained what should have been common sense: Pregnant people should not be detained by ICE. The agency does not have the ability, resources or desire to provide proper medical care to any detained people, but especially those in need of prenatal care. In March 2018, this did not stop the Trump administration from verifying that it rescinded an Obama-era policy that ordered immigration officials generally to release pregnant migrants from federal custody. (Two years ago I reported that the policy seemed to be in flux because ICE was not releasing pregnant people from custody as far back as September 2017.)

When I spoke to Peña in February 2019, she was also enraged. She’d just come back from visiting Port Isabel and after the news broke about the Honduran woman’s story; Peña frantically reached out to other immigration organizations and requested that they stop sidelining reproductive rights issues. She also urged them to release a statement calling the latest atrocity what it was: a reproductive injustice, and part of a larger series of attacks from the Trump administration targeting pregnant migrants. In the end, none of the organizations Peña reached out to committed to her small request of releasing a statement⁠—and to reproductive rights organizations, the Honduran woman’s story was barely a blip on the radar.

NLIRH is one of the few national organizations focusing on immigration and reproductive justice, a crucial intersection to be working at—especially under the Trump administration.

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