November 15, 2018

Harris Presses ICE Director on Conditions of Detained Pregnant Women, Allegations of Abuse

Video of Harris’ Questioning

 WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris pressed Acting Director and nominee to be Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Ronald Vitiello on the agency’s policies surrounding detained pregnant women at the border and allegations of abusive and threatening behavior filed against ICE agents.

Harris questioned Vitiello on the implications of ICE reversing its policy on detaining pregnant women in December 2017, pressing him to provide information on how many pregnant women have since been held in ICE custody and how many pregnant women are currently detained. Harris also requested that Vitiello provide a breakdown of pregnant women detained by ICE by trimester, at which point he acknowledged certain scenarios in which pregnant women in their third trimester are kept in ICE custody.

“Since ICE issued this policy, there has also been a question about what is exactly the policy regarding women in their third trimester. Can you tell me what the current policy is on that?” Harris asked.

Vitiello responded, “The very rare circumstance where someone would be in custody in their third trimester, it would only for, to effectuate a removal.”

Harris further pressed Vitiello on whether ICE has conducted an assessment of the treatment of pregnant women in its facilities. In May 2018, Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen committed to providing this analysis to the Committee, however Vitiello claimed to be unaware of Secretary Nielsen’s commitment.  

“A specific assessment, I’m not aware of,” said Vitiello.

Harris also pressed Vitiello on a complaint filed in August 2018 that alleged verbal and physical threats, insults, denial of food, and withholding of feminine hygiene products against detained immigrant parents who were separated from their children under the Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance policy. The complaint also alleged that the parents were falsely informed that their children would be permanently taken from them.

Vitiello was unable to provide information on what he specifically ordered to address the allegations.