Last week, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Neilsen bragged that the government has been giving pregnancy tests to detained migrant girls as young as 10 years old. However, her attempt to seem compassionate backfired when advocates began asking: What care does the government provide if the test comes back positive?
Nielsen said, “We give a pregnancy test at DHS to every girl over 10, to provide for their medical care. That is how dangerous the journey is.” Nielsen went on to emphasize her real point: stopping smugglers from bringing migrants over the border. She connected the dangers of traveling with a smuggler with the government’s alleged efforts to protect young girls that are sexually abused or raped on the way to the U.S. “Smugglers are not humanitarians,” she said. “We cannot have a system that encourages smugglers.” What she failed to mention is that a lot of these young girls are fleeing sexual violence in their home countries and the U.S. wishes to deport them back.
Following Nielsen’s statements, advocates began to question how the Department of Homeland Security administered these tests to young girls. The ICE website states that “detainees aged 18-56” are given pregnancy tests but does not mention minors. Thus, the list of protections and rights to medical care that follow must not apply to minors. So, what’s happening to the young girls that are pregnant? The Executive Director of the UltraViolet women’s advocacy group Shauna Thomas said:
How are these tests being administered? Are these girls being provided access to counseling for potential histories of sexual abuse? Are they being offered access to medical treatment or abortions if they do not want to carry a child? What does the administration plan to do with the results of this information? Will the girls’ pregnancy results influence the government’s decision to deport or grant them asylum?
In the case of Jane Doe, a 17-year-old detained migrant girl, the Trump administration attempted to block her from obtaining an abortion. Access to a free and safe care is listed on ICE’s website as a detained migrant woman’s right. Once again, that website only mentions women between the ages of 18-56. This case is cause for concern, as it is unclear what kind of care the minors are provided if they test positive.
However, recent reports reveal the ICE website may not be completely transparent when it comes to how pregnant women are actually treated in detention. Until 2017, pregnant migrant women weren’t even allowed to be detained unless it involved “extraordinary circumstances.” The Trump administration now allows pregnant women to be detained up until their third trimester. There has been recent evidence to support that ICE is not providing proper care for pregnant women and some of them have had miscarriages while being detained. The horror stories include detained pregnant women being shackled across their bellies, refused treatment while they’re experiencing a miscarriage, abused and neglected.
Democratic legislators are currently trying to prevent the mistreatment of pregnant women in the migrant detention centers. However, DHS and ICE have not answered questions concerning what happens to minors who are pregnant while in custody.