Are Federal Officials Criminalizing Pregnant Migrants?

By Shani Saxon May 15, 2019

The United States Marshals Service (USMS) is the enforcement arm of the federal courts, which means it is involved in nearly all federal law enforcement initiatives. And Rewire.News reports that the agency is committing “atrocities” against pregnant migrants under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

Back in June 2018, a judge ordered the Trump administration to halt its widely maligned zero-tolerance immigration policy, which resulted in thousands of families being separated at the border. Rewire.News now reports that family separation was just one part of President Donald Trump’s bigger—and still active—zero tolerance immigration program. According to the news site:


The policy’s primary function is to ramp up criminal prosecution of people caught entering the United States without authorization along the southwest border, and it’s working.

Taylor Levy, legal coordinator for migrant advocacy group Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, told Rewire.News that she believes officials are intentionally seeking out pregnant migrants for prosecution. “Maybe [Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials] have internal guidelines for who they prosecute, but if they are randomly choosing, they’re not choosing women who are two or three months pregnant. We are talking about women who are hugely, visibly pregnant, women who are seven or eight months pregnant, and women with high-risk pregnancies,” Levy said. “Why they seem to be choosing pregnant asylum seekers as their sacrificial lambs for the zero-tolerance policy, I can’t say.” 

Pregnant asylum seekers go from CBP to USMS custody because the Trump administration classifies them as “criminals.” Those who are then referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution end up remaining in USMS custody for a longer period. And that’s reportedly when pregnant migrants seeking asylum face the most danger. From Rewire.News:


Detaining migrants being prosecuted under zero-tolerance is a “complex challenge” for USMS because it requires locating detention space near federal courthouses to facilitate court proceedings. It’s unclear how close those facilities are to hospitals, which is especially relevant for migrants with high-risk pregnancies.

A doctor who declined to share her name with Rewire.News told the outlet that the care received by pregnant migrants is certainly negligent, saying, “it’s unclear if it’s because the prisons detaining migrants are not allowing them to access care off the premises, or if it’s USMS failing to transport women in a timely manner.”

Rewire.News also reports that USMS seeks to delay treatment for people held in custody, saying that “many medically appropriate, non-emergency procedures can and will be delayed until after the prisoner’s judicial status is resolved, as long as there is no serious health risk to the prisoner.”

USMS responded to Rewire.News’ story via a statement from a spokesperson who said the agency has “no record of receiving any grievances regarding lapses in prenatal and gynecological care in Texas.” The USMS representative added, “If a USMS prisoner has such a grievance, she has several avenues to communicate it to, including: follow the grievance policy of the facility housing her; her attorney, who in turn can contact the USMS; and write to the USMS district office or talk in person to USMS personnel when she has court appearances.”

*Note: Story has been updated to include the correct pronoun for Taylor Levy.