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.