The new directive, announced Friday, does not bar Immigration and Customs Enforcement from initiating proceedings to deport women who are pregnant, nursing or have given birth within the past year. But they generally would no longer be detained pending the outcome of their cases except under “exceptional circumstances," the agency said.
“This reflects our commitment to treat all individuals with respect and dignity while still enforcing our nation’s laws,” acting ICE Director Tae Johnson said.
While these efforts have angered immigration opponents, the number of people in immigration custody has risen sharply in recent months. There are more than 27,000 people in ICE custody, up from less than 14,000 at the end of March, according to data compiled by the Transactional Research Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
Nearly 80% of those in ICE custody have no criminal record, and a majority of those who do have committed largely minor offenses, according to TRAC.
Advocates praised Friday's announcement, but said it doesn’t go far enough. The American Civil Liberties Union called on the government to stop detaining anyone who might be at risk in detention. “This action by the Biden administration is a welcome step in the right direction,” said Eunice Cho, a senior staff attorney with the organization.
Under Obama, ICE adopted a policy in August 2016 that pregnant migrants would be presumed eligible for release as their cases made their way through immigration courts.
The number of pregnant women detained by ICE increased from 1,380 in 2016 to 2,098, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Any child born in the U.S. would automatically have American citizenship.