No Bathroom Breaks: Giving Birth in a Detention Center

From Breakthrough.TV:

With three to four days to deliver a baby, Juana was making last minute prenatal visits when she was surprisingly pulled over by a police officer. Juana asked why she had been pulled over, but the officer ignored her inquiries and demanded to see Juana’s driver’s license. Unfortunately, although Juana has spent the last fourteen years in the U.S., she does not have a driver’s license because she is undocumented. Afraid to face jail time as a pregnant mom and fighting to avoid letting her three crying children in the backseat see their mother in shackles, Juana pleaded with the officer to let her go.

Unlike most mothers preparing to give birth, Juana sat in the jail cell when her water broke a few days later. As she was transferred to a local hospital for delivery, Juana’s arms and legs were cuffed. The cuffs continued while she was at the hospital and remained in place until she reached the final stages of labor. After Juana gave birth, her baby was taken from her without an explanation as to where the baby was going and without providing Juana an opportunity to nurse her newborn. Juana could not speak to her husband, and her requests to go to the restroom were uniformly denied by a nurse supervising Juana. A few days later, a nurse attempted to bring a breast pump to Juana, though the detention officers did not allow her to bring it in. Even more jarring, after Juana began to experience pain in her breasts due to the breast milk she was accumulating, Juana was denied her requests for Tylenol. Ultimately, her breasts became infected, and the newborn boy developed jaundice.

Little information is known about how immigrant detainees are treated, though story’s like Juana’s provide little reassurance that pregnant women detained are treated humanely. Critics have assumed a vociferous position against treatment towards pregnant women in detention centers. Many have called on ICE to have more stringent standards for people in custody, and to ensure pregnant women receive adequate prenatal and post-delivery care. However, one thing is clear. Something must be done to prevent stories like Juana’s.

For more information, or to hear more stories about immigrant detention, go to Breakthrough.TV's "End Homeland Guantanamos" project.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund