Shackle a Pregnant Woman, Risk a Foreseeable Tragedy
The news on Mother’s Day left her elated: she was pregnant with her first child. But Monserrat Ruiz Cuevas’ celebration was short lived.
When she learned she was pregnant, she was in custody at the Mesa Verde Detention Center, an immigration facility in Bakersfield operated by GEO Group, Inc. Within days Monserrat became ill and was taken to a hospital for urgent medical care.
Despite the fact that she was pregnant, GEO staff shackled her—handcuffs, ankle cuffs, and waist chain—for the trip to the hospital in a downpour. While getting into the vehicle, Monserrat tripped on the shackles and fell hard on her stomach, unable to break her fall. The very next day, Monserrat began bleeding heavily. Yet, GEO staff handcuffed her while transporting her to the hospital.
Once there, her worst fears were confirmed. She had lost her baby.
Shackling pregnant women is absolutely inhumane. It is also a clear violation of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policies and Congress’ directive prohibiting the use of force and restraints on pregnant women. ICE’s detention policies bar restraining pregnant women, including during transportation, absent “extraordinary circumstances that render restraints absolutely necessary.” As these policies recognize, shackling can be humiliating, painful and dangerous.
There was no reason to restrain Monserrat at all, much less fully shackle a pregnant woman experiencing severe medical symptoms. She fled Mexico to escape the horrific violence there, and has no criminal background whatsoever. Yet GEO staff placed her in chains. And, tragically, the exact danger that ICE’s policy against shackling is designed to protect against–injury to the woman and risk to her pregnancy–was realized in Monserrat’s case.
A month after apprehending Monserrat—and weeks after she suffered the tragic loss of her child—ICE finally agreed to release her on June 11. Monserrat’s release will help ensure that she will receive the care she desperately needs. For weeks, GEO staff had denied her post-miscarriage medical care and critical mental health services. Sadly, Monserrat’s ordeal represents yet another instance of GEO’s failure to provide adequate medical care to immigration detainees in their care.
But nothing can bring back what she lost on that horrific day. To ensure that no woman ever suffers the same fate again, the ACLU is demanding that ICE move swiftly to ensure that all detention center staff are properly trained in the treatment of pregnant women. One woman has already suffered the devastating loss of a child while in ICE custody. No others should be forced to endure such horror.
Katie Traverso is a Stanford Law Fellow and Michael Kaufman is a staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California.