Biden Gives Pregnant, Nursing and Postpartum Mothers a Pass

Here’s a scrap of good news. ICE will no longer target migrant women who are pregnant, nursing or within the year postpartum. This new rule is, well, actually civilized, especially when you consider the barbarity of Trump’s ICE policies, when migrant women giving birth in border detention centers risked having their newborns snatched from their arms forever. That Trump policy ominously echoed traditional fascism, as practiced against imprisoned leftist mothers in Franco’s Spain and, later, throughout Latin America, before and during the CIA’s murderous Operation Condor.

“Since 2016, ICE has arrested undocumented pregnant immigrants more than 4000 times,” according to the New York Times on July 9. “There are currently fewer than 20 such immigrants in custody.” The article notes that Biden’s new, more lenient policy “could rankle some conservatives.” These nativists are already hot and bothered about birthright citizenship, having credulously swallowed right-wing propaganda outlet Fox News’s lies about so-called “anchor babies.”

Many reactionaries swear by tall tales about migrant women racing over the border in their ninth month of pregnancy, to “drop” a baby in the U.S. But my guess is that pregnant migrant women are not that different from most pregnant women and aren’t “racing” anywhere after their fourth or fifth month. And if they are desperate enough to travel that near delivery, they probably do qualify as asylum seekers.

From the Times article we also learn that “most states ban the shackling of pregnant women during labor.” Well, thank God. But when that’s the best you can say of U.S. policy toward pregnant women in detention, the bar’s pretty freaking low. Not surprisingly, this article reports 28 possible miscarriages in detention. One example it describes indicates that these mothers are not exactly receiving top-of-the-line care. No surprise there.

According to the Washington Post, also on July 9, Biden’s new policy “is even more expansive than it was during the Obama era.” Back then postpartum and nursing women were not exempted from ICE detention. From both reports it is clear that this reversal of Trump’s policies could itself be undone by another president. In sum, this very vulnerable population of immigrants risks a return of brutal treatment, absent legislation. But laws protecting these women getting passed by THIS congress? With the filibuster still intact and every good Republican near-fascist burnishing his anti-immigrant curriculum vitae? I don’t think so.

So at best we have a humane new approach, at worst a temporary respite from right-wing savagery. And that savagery, historically, directs itself at women, with monstrosities that only very sick people could invent. Although for their own followers, fascists love to glorify motherhood, for their opponents, motherhood is a beaten bloody target. In Latin America in the 1960s and ‘70s, infants of leftist mothers were stolen at birth and given to fascist families. The imprisoned mothers were murdered immediately postpartum. This is the proud patriarchal lineage of fascism, aspects of which Trump, wittingly or not, was happy to dust off for contemporary use.

Of course, trust Murdoch’s reactionary New York Post to play this story as one of coddling law-breakers. “Biden to Free Pregnant Women Who Crossed Border Illegally,” the headline shrieks. The article describes details of Biden’s new rules, namely that the new policy only applies to ICE but not Customs and Border Protection – so such “women could be apprehended at the border before being released by ICE.” The New York Post account announces that border “detentions hit a 21-year monthly high of more than 180,000 in May,” afterward listing the many ways Biden is supposedly soft on immigration. But then, what else would one expect from a Murdoch publication? Murdoch’s Fox News, after all, is the outfit platforming anti-vax insanity. For this so-called news outfit, vaccination against lethal covid is a personal choice, not a species-wide imperative. Fox literally has blood on its hands.

Posing for cameras, Trump visited the Texas border on June 30 with arch-reactionary governor Greg Abbott. Both decried the “dangerous situation” at the border, though from my perch in the peanut gallery, the danger seems to come from opportunistic politicians gobbling up funds for border “security,” monies better used for rent abatement, vaccine drives, and unemployment benefits. Abbott, who will hopefully lose reelection in 2022, “has made border security his top issue this year,” Government Executive magazine reports. Abbott has declared “a state of disaster in dozens of Texas counties due to an increase of apprehensions at the country’s southern border.” He has made finishing the border wall his priority. Well, good luck with that.

Naturally Abbott is tossing millions into the border-wall money-pit. He mentioned ranchers “who have had guns pointed at them by people crossing their property and said homes were being ‘invaded.’” Abbott focused on cartels and human traffickers sneaking into Texas, eschewing the diseased-human-vermin approach, for which Trump, with his lepers in migrant caravans, became so notorious and was so adored by nativists and racial purists. Nor did Abbott howl about hordes of migrant women and unaccompanied children. How enlightened of him.

In addition to overall health concerns for pregnant and nursing mothers, there’s covid. Trump used the pandemic to block immigrants from entering this country. Indeed, Senator Ted Cruz recently echoed him with the classic Nazi trope that migrants bring disease. But now that Biden has tossed Trump’s sickening rules into the trashcan where they belong, these mothers should not be detained a minute longer than necessary. Pregnant women are especially vulnerable to covid; pregnancy is a co-morbidity. And infants also get very sick. Being newborn is a co-morbidity. So now at least detentions, being briefer, may not be death sentences. Biden’s somewhat more humane new regs buck the GOP trend of bending the arc of history toward injustice.

These new rules are also of a piece with Biden’s attempt to undo the damage of that crime against humanity, family separation, with which Trump further immiserated desperate migrants and besmirched what’s left of this nation’s tattered reputation for human rights. As many as four or five hundred children still have not been reunited with their parents, in large part because the Trump administration deliberately kept shoddy records. Cruelty was Trump’s policy, as it is always fascist policy. At least there was no maternal murder. There’s always that.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Lizard People. She can be reached at her website.