Appalling Treatment of Jailed Pregnant Immigrant

By Rachel Walden — July 14, 2008

Thanks to local advocate Tim Chavez, the treatment of Juana Villegas DeLaPaz after she was stopped by a Berry Hill, TN police officer has become public. This incident began just a couple of streets away from my Nashville home, and has only been covered by one of our mainstream media outlets at last check.

According to Tim’s report, Juana Villegas DeLaPaz was pulled over by the Berry Hill police as she was leaving a prenatal clinic with her three children in tow. Although her car was registered and she had identification, she did not have a current driver’s license (which are no longer available to undocumented immigrants in Tennesse). The officer reportedly asked her to call someone to come and drive them all home, but then decided to arrest her. She was handcuffed and taken to jail.

In a follow-up post after speaking with DeLaPaz’s attorney, Chavez provided these additional details.

“Sgt. Coleman…made pregnant Juana wait in a hot car for an hour. When the other driver arrived, Coleman then told Juana that if she didn’t get out of the car into his police vehicle in two seconds he would put her in handcuffs. She told Coleman that she was supposed to deliver in three days, but it made no difference.”

Tim reports that during her U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) interview, it was determined that she had previously undergone deportation a decade prior, so she was kept in jail on the “driving without a license” charge and an ICE detainment. Then this happened:

“On 7/5/08, her water broke at approximately 10 p.m and she was taken by ambulance to General Hospital about an hour later. She gave birth on 7/6/08 at 1:03 a.m. She received excellent and compassionate care at Nashville General.”

“During her stay there, the guard (I believe it to have been sheriff’s personnel — wore a “green uniform”) disconnected the phone so that she could make no outgoing calls. She did not see her husband the entire time she was there. She was ankle-cuffed to the bed at all times (except when she was released to take a bathroom break).”

After giving birth, DeLaPaz had her ankles recuffed and had this to contend with:

“When the nurse requested the cuffs be removed to enable a better job of self-administering personal hygeine, the guard refused. The nurse became upset, but the guard callously said, ‘I’m just doing my job.’ She was discharged on 7/8 at 4 p.m. The nurse gave her a breast pump, but the sheriff’s guard refused to let her use it or take it with her from the hospital.”

Two days after giving birth, she was returned to jail. Having been initially jailed on July 3rd, DeLaPaz was released on July 10th.

Chavez has considerable discussion at Political Salsa of how the 287g program, which permits involvement of state and local law enforcement in immigration issues, has affected this case. As I mentioned in a post at Women’s Health News, this event sends a message to the community of immigrant women that there will be no discretion, no compassion, that they risk being jailed, giving birth in custody, and having their baby taken away if they take the simple step of leaving their homes to seek medical care while pregnant.

This was not a violent crime – this was simply driving without a valid driver’s license, mixed in with some anti-human sentiment. This woman presumably did not pose any immediate threat to society by being allowed to finish her pregnancy outside of a jail cell and spend precious time with her newborn. And yet, she was not allowed this, she was not respected as a human being. Neither was her infant.

Unfortunately, there are instances all over the country in which pregnant and/or immigrant women are treated inhumanely by those following procedures – when they are jailed instead of offered medical assistance for a drug addiction, when they miscarry and police tip lines get set up to rat them out (for something that isn’t illegal, as happened in West Virginia), when imprisoned women give birth with inadequate care and in shackles, when they try to get help for suspicious bleeding during pregnancy but are jailed and miscarry (as happened under police supervision in Florida). Please see the National Advocates for Pregnant Women and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health for more discussion of related issues.

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