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Undocumented Pregnant Women Forced To Give Birth While Shackled In Front Of Police

By Marie Diamond on September 29, 2011 at 3:20 pm

"Undocumented Pregnant Women Forced To Give Birth While Shackled In Front Of Police"

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Just when you thought the nationwide crackdown on undocumented immigrants couldn’t get any more brutal, the Huffington Post reports that pregnant women in Arizona and Tennessee were detained and forced to give birth while shackled to their hospital beds because they couldn’t produce identification.

The shackling of female inmates when they go into labor has been a roundly condemned practice in prisons, but local authorities are now extending that humiliation to non-violent immigrant women whose only crime was being stopped by police without a valid license:

When I was in bed, I was begging the sheriff, ‘Please let me free — at least one hand,’ and he said, no, he didn’t want to,” Juana Villegas said in an interview with a local Nashville television station. She was describing the experience of being shackled to her hospital bed as she went into labor. Villegas gave birth in the sheriff’s custody, after she was stopped by local police while driving without a valid license.[...]

Like Villegas, Alma Chacon, and Miriam Mendiola-Martinez gave birth in the United States shackled to their hospital beds, without their husbands, and in the presence of a prison guard. They also were not violent criminals, but rather, they were all undocumented and charged with an immigration-related offense in Sheriff Arpaio’s jurisdiction of Maricopa County, Arizona.

What’s more, Villegas’s lawyer notes that driving without a license is usually handled with a simple citation, not an arrest, leading them to believe the women were only detained because they looked like immigrants.

The three women report shockingly inhumane treatment by police officers. One woman’s newborn son was taken from her within 48 hours of his birth and given to a family member. Local authorities refused to let Juana Villegas use a breast pump the hospital gave her, causing her to be in “great pain.” Alma Chacon says she was not allowed to nurse or hold her baby until she was released from immigration custody almost 70 days after she gave birth.

Pregnant undocumented immigrants are treated even worse than prosecuted criminals, who can be released on bond before they gave birth if they are charged with nonviolent crimes that don’t include the sin of being undocumented.

In 2007, the Bureau of Prisons instituted an anti-shackling policy in federal correctional facilities, but “state correctional facilities are still free to shackle inmates before, during and after child delivery if they see fit.” In 36 states, it’s legal for local authorities to handcuff women to their hospital beds if they are being held for immigration-related charges classified as “criminal offenses.” Those women can also be denied the right to have a family member in the birthing room, or to hold their newborns for longer than 24 hours.

According to a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “it is against ICE policy to use restraints in medical situations, absent extraordinary circumstances.” But critics note that ICE refuses to enforce the policy or train local authorities to respect it. “They’re very happy to wash their hands of things, and say, ‘That happened under local authority, not our authority,’” says Michelle Brané, director of the Detention and Asylum program at the Women’s Refugee Commission.

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