Issue Brief: U.S. Government Exploits COVID-19 to Mistreat Pregnant Immigrants and Asylum Seekers


Primary Content

A new issue brief from the Center for Reproductive Rights and partner organizations details how the U.S. government has exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to eviscerate humanitarian and human rights protections for immigrants and people seeking asylum, with devastating consequences for pregnant people along the U.S.-Mexico border and in immigration detention.

A co-publication of the Center for Reproductive Rights, American Friends Service Committee, Human Rights First, and the Women’s Refugee Commission, the brief is titled “Pregnant Immigrants and Asylum Seekers During COVID-19: U.S. Government Abuses at the Border and Beyond.”

Released just hours before a whistleblower complaint accused a detention center in Georgia of performing nonconsensual hysterectomies on immigrant women, this brief provides timely information about the threats to reproductive health and autonomy faced by immigrants and asylum seekers in U.S. custody.

The brief contextualizes human rights abuses identified through news articles, reports, and complaints, and offers recommendations that are urgently needed to ensure the health and safety of pregnant and postpartum asylum seekers and immigrants.

“Safeguarding the health, safety, and rights of marginalized populations, including pregnant people, should be central to our pandemic response,” said Monique Baumont, Research and Policy Analyst with the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Yet evidence indicates that the current administration has exploited the pandemic to further dehumanize and violate the rights of pregnant immigrants and asylum seekers, with devastating impacts.”

Pregnant Immigrants Face Human Rights Abuses

The report describes a persistent pattern of mistreatment of pregnant immigrants and people seeking asylum and demonstrates how policies during the pandemic have exacerbated long-standing human rights violations.

For example, the Department of Homeland Security has used a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order allegedly aimed at protecting public health as an excuse to block and expel more than 109,000 migrants and people seeking asylum, including unaccompanied children and pregnant people. Meanwhile, pregnant people in immigration detention face heightened threats to their health as ICE refuses to provide adequate medical care or release them to safety.

News reports and complaints submitted to the Office of Inspector General highlight this pattern of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment:

  • A Guatemalan asylum seeker was forced to give birth at a border patrol station, despite her repeated requests for medical attention. After being sent to a hospital after giving birth, she was returned to the border patrol station with her newborn just two days later.
  • A pregnant Honduran asylum seeker and her two daughters were expelled to Mexico while the woman was having contractions and asking for medical attention.

Policy Changes Urgently Needed

The brief makes a series of recommendations, including that the Department of Homeland Security and CDC rescind the CDC order and restore the orderly processing of asylum seekers; and that ICE stop detaining migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic and prohibit the detention of pregnant and postpartum migrants.

“Pregnant Immigrants and Asylum Seekers During COVID-19” is the latest in a series of fact sheets from the Center concerning reproductive rights during the pandemic.

Click here to read the full issue brief.

Click here for the Center’s complete series of COVID-19 fact sheets.