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ICE to no longer detain most pregnant, nursing and postpartum immigrants

The agency said that the changes take into account the "health and safety" of expecting and new mothers.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Friday announced it's easing its restrictions placed on most pregnant and postpartum women.

The new policy claims that ICE should not detain, arrest or take into custody "for an administrative violation of the immigration laws" anyone known to be pregnant, postpartum or nursing, unless their release is prohibited by law or any other exceptional circumstances exist.

The agency said that the changes take into account the "health and safety" of expecting and new mothers and recognized "the time needed for infant development and parental bonding."

Addressing the policy change, Acting ICE Director Tae D. Johnson said that the agency is committed to safeguarding the integrity of the immigration system.

“Given the unique needs of this population, we will not detain individuals known to be pregnant, postpartum or nursing unless release is prohibited by law or exceptional circumstances exist," Johnson added. "This reflects our commitment to treat all individuals with respect and dignity while still enforcing our nation’s laws.”

ICE added that its new policy will have "very limited circumstances" where detaining a pregnant woman is necessary and appropriate. 

This is a major step by President Joe Biden's administration, which has pushed the need for bipartisan action on a pathway to citizenship. Before the July Fourth weekend during a naturalization ceremony, Biden said "we need an immigration system that both reflects our values and upholds our laws. We can do both."

The Democratic president said there should be a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, for foreign-born people who have temporary protected status due to strife in their birth countries and for farm workers. Biden's comments, however, stopped short of the legislative proposal he's endorsed, which includes a much broader option for most immigrants to apply for legal status and then seek citizenship.

In February, Biden and congressional Democrats proposed a major immigration overhaul that included an eight-year pathway to citizenship for the roughly 11 million people living in the United States illegally. Republican lawmakers blocked the effort and have criticized the administration for the rise in people attempting to cross the southern border without visas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.