Race Card: Why Are Pregnant Migrant Women in Arizona Being Shackled?

Nadra Kareem Nittle
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Last year authorities arrested expectant mother Miriam Mendiola-Martinez, an undocumented immigrant, and charged her with using someone else's identity to work. After the incarcerated Mendiola-Martinez delivered a baby boy Dec. 21 via C-section at Maricopa Medical Center in Arizona, she was shackled for two days to her hospital bed and not allowed to nurse her baby, New America Media (NAM) reports. Moreover, when guards escorted her out of the hospital in shackles, no one told her the whereabouts of her son.

The case of Mendiola-Martinez isn't an isolated one. The year before authorities arrested undocumented immigrant Alma Chacón during a traffic stop for having outstanding unpaid tickets, according to NAM. Chacón said detention officers shackled her hands and legs during childbirth. To boot, she couldn't nurse or hold her baby until her release from custody almost 70 days later.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists frowns upon the practice of shackling pregnant, laboring or post-partum women because it endangers the health of expectant mothers and unborn children alike. Mendiola-Martinez, who wasn't just shackled during delivery but during the last two months of her pregnancy, told NAM that the 12-foot-long chain authorities forced her to wear hurt her waist.

"I could barely walk. I don't think I could have escaped or even dared to run. I don't think there was a need for them to do that," she said.

In 2008, the Federal Bureau of Prisons barred the shackling of pregnant inmates in federal prisons except when it was necessary for security concerns, but the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) doesn't ban shackles, NAM says. A major reason undocumented women end up giving birth while in custody in Arizona is because voters there enacted a law in 2006 that denies undocumented immigrants the right to post bail. The reported goal of the law, Prop. 100, is to keep undocumented immigrants charged with "serious crimes" from being released, but included among "serious crimes" is possessing false documents, which migrants clearly rely on to land work. Had Prop. 100 not been on the books, Mendiola-Martinez would have been released on bond and not forced to wear a 12-foot chain while pregnant and after a C-section.

Each year about 1,500 pregnant women enter Maricopa County Estrella Jail, and out of them, 11 percent are undocumented immigrants, NAM reports. To prevent more women from enduring pregnancy in chains, get involved with the Rebecca Project, an advocacy group working to stop confinement of pregnant women in prison.

"Obstetricians recognize that women who are in labor need to be able to freely move around and be free to assume different positions during birthing, and that to restrain or shackle renders a mother and her child more vulnerable to complications," the Rebecca Project states.

At present, no statistics are available about the number of incarcerated pregnant women who miscarry as a result of wearing shackles.

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6 Comments Have Been Posted

Are shackles necessary?

I have never been pregnant, and have never been around a woman during labor, so I really don't know: When women are in labor, are they physically able to make a run for it? (TV shows them being immobilized by contractions every few minutes, but that's TV.) If not, it kind of seems excessive, especially since the women are giving birth in prison hospitals, inside prisons, surrounded by guards.

Boo freaking hoo. She was

Boo freaking hoo. She was breaking the law and was in custody. If you can't provide statistics on how many women have issues because of the shackles, than your suppositioning without any concrete evidence in order to bolster an emotional reaction. Get me numbers, and then I'll give a damn.

This is a human rights

This is a human rights violation. These women aren't violent offenders, they're immigrants looking for work and a better life. This is absolutely ridiculous and breaks my heart. Not only that but it's detrimental to the infants health to be denied the right to be warmed by their mother's body immediately after birth or to be allowed to nurse. What exactly are they trying to achieve by punishing the infant? Not only that, but there is absolutely no need to shackle a non-violent sane offender who is already in prison. To then keep them shackled through labor is even more mind boggling. Women in the last stages of pregnancy can't run very fast, and if you're already in active labor, forget making a run for it. The pain is excruciating and nearly cripples you during contractions. They wouldn't get very far. This is completely unnecessary and an exception needs to be written into this law that exempts non-violent offenders and pregnant/laboring women.

Human Rights Violation? Yeah, right.

It doesn't matter if she's a "non-violent" offender or not. She was using someone else's identity to be in the country illegally. That's identity theft, fraud, forgery, and a bunch of other felonies. I'm pretty sure unemployed Americans have the right to a good life in this country, but they'd be facing serious prison time for what this lady tried to pull off. I don't care if she IS pregnant, that's her lot; plenty of women have to deal with the reality of giving birth in prison. I find the very idea that she entered this country illegally just so she could have her kids in the U.S. infuriating.

Unnecessarily Cruel

I wonder if people would hold these toxic beliefs if American Indians had instituted these policies against the "illegal immigrants" from Europe.

The above comment displays a prevalent type of ignorance in Arizona, one of the reasons I left my home state. I wonder what this poster thinks about the fact cited in the article that the Federal Bureau of PRISONS, whose policies likely affect *violent offenders*, bans shackling pregnant inmates except in exigent circumstances, yet ICE does not. Does s/he believe someone incarcerated by ICE for using false documentation (which is not always identity theft, often the docs are completely fabricated, harming no one) deserves harsher punishment than someone who is incarcerated for committing a violent federal offense?

I also wonder what in the text made him/her infer that the women shackled were only in the U.S. to have their children. Reading this kind of callous, judgmental piousness makes me genuinely sad that so many of the legislators in my home state are so misguided. These are human lives, not sound bites. If immigration is a problem, solve it with sound policies, not inhumane practices.

ACLU Wins Federal Case on Shackling Pregnant Women

Regardless of your views on immigration, these women are human beings, and deserve to be treated with dignity. I can't imagine treating another human being this way simply because they are in the country illegally. If the person was a legitimate flight risk or Hannibal Lector maybe I could see it, but these are women in labor. I wouldn't even do this to a dog having puppies. Those of you who think this is no big deal have obviously never been in labor or had a baby.

I'm not alone in my opinion here, the ACLU has been fighting this battle for a while and have been successful. See the following article from the ACLU website:


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