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New Policy for Separating Illegal Immigrants From Their Breastfed Babies During Detentions

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For once, here’s some breastfeeding news that makes sense. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) has issued new guidelines on the detention of nursing mothers who are in this country illegally. The New York Times is reporting today that they can now be released unless they pose a national security risk. ICE’s new written guidelines also establish how agents should handle the arrests of single parents, pregnant women, and other immigrants with special child or family care responsibilities.
This follows a sad case last month. Here’s part of the NYT article:

Federal immigration agents were searching a house in Ohio last month when they found a young Honduran woman nursing her baby. The woman, Saída Umanzor, is an illegal immigrant and was taken to jail to await deportation. Her 9-month-old daughter, Brittney Bejarano, who was born in the United States and is a citizen, was put in the care of social workers….
Ms. Umanzor, 26, was arrested in her home on Maple Street in Conneaut, Ohio, on Oct. 26 and was released 11 days later on orders of Julie L. Myers, the head of the immigration agency. While in detention, Ms. Umanzor did not see her daughter Brittney, who had been fed only breast milk before her mother’s arrest. Ms. Umanzor remains under house arrest with Brittney and her two other children in Conneaut, 70 miles east of Cleveland, under an order for deportation. Her lawyer, David W. Leopold, has asked that her deportation be delayed on humanitarian grounds.
Ms. Umanzor had been at home with two of her three children, both American citizens, when the immigration agents arrived, along with a county police officer carrying a criminal warrant for a brother-in-law of Ms. Umanzor who also lived in the house.
As the agents searched, Ms. Umanzor breast-fed her jittery baby, she recalled in an interview after her release.
The baby was born in January in Oregon, where Ms. Umanzor’s husband, also Honduran and an illegal immigrant, was working in a saw mill.
Through a quick records check during the raid, the immigration agents discovered a July 2006 order of deportation for Ms. Umanzor, who had failed to appear for a court date after she was caught crossing a Texas border river illegally.
The agents detained her as a fugitive. She was forced to leave both Brittney and the other American daughter, Alexandra, who is 3, since the agents could not detain them.
“Just thinking that I was going to leave my little girl, I began to feel sick,” Ms. Umanzor said of the baby. “I had a pain in my heart.”
Ms. Umanzor turned over her daughters to social workers from the Ashtabula County Children Services Board, who had been summoned by the immigration authorities. In all, the social workers took in six children who lived in the Maple Street house, including Ms. Umanzor’s oldest child, a son born in Honduras. They also included three children of Ms. Umanzor’s sister, an illegal immigrant who was at work that day. Four of the children were born in the United States.
In jail and with her nursing abruptly halted, Ms. Umanzor’s breasts become painfully engorged. With the help of Veronica Dahlberg, director of a Hispanic women’s group in Ashtabula County, a breast pump was delivered on her third day in jail. Brittney, meanwhile, did not eat for three days, refusing to take formula from a bottle, Ms. Dahlberg said.
After four days, the county released all six children to Ms. Umanzor’s sister, who managed to wean Brittney to a bottle.
On Nov. 7, after two dozen women’s health advocates and researchers sent a letter protesting Ms. Umanzor’s detention, Ms. Myers issued a memorandum instructing field officers “to exercise discretion” during arrests by releasing nursing mothers from detention unless they presented a national security or public safety risk.
In cases where the breast-feeding children were United States citizens and entitled to public services, Ms. Myers urged the officers to seek assistance from social agencies to “maintain the unity of the mother and child.”

One Response to “New Policy for Separating Illegal Immigrants From Their Breastfed Babies During Detentions”

I am a breastfeeding mom, so my heart goes out for this woman who was separated from her children. I also work in the social services field. I know that everyone thinks that the immigration debate is racist and that people are immigrating to the US for a better life- but, I see things that other people don’t and frankly I’m scared out of my mind what is going to happen with not only the illegal immigrants, but the whole generation of society that has become accustomed to living on welfare. Where I live there are about 100,000 illegals, and there is a HUGE percentage of the women that are living off of welfare and their children are dropping out of school and having babies at around the age of 14. As far as the American citizens that are living off of welfare, in my county, there is a 24 percent poverty rate and last year 60 percent of the babies here were paid for by welfare. I already pay close to 30 percent in taxes and shop at discount stores and thrift shops, I can’t take more taxes or I am going to have to go on the dole- and I would also like to make another point, regardless of whether or not you are breastfeeding, being separated from your children would be terrible, I would have a nervous breakdown if I was separated from my children. Maybe they should make detention facilities that are housing units that could accommodate families, or better yet, don’t come here illegally.

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