The Trump administration said late Tuesday that it had released a pregnant 19-year-old illegal immigrant woman into the community on her own recognizance, freeing her to obtain an abortion on her own.
The move was aimed at freeing the government from any obligation to facilitate the abortion with taxpayer money, but it also served to highlight the growing battle over illegal immigrants and their demands for access to abortion rights in the U.S.
In the latest case, involving a woman named in court papers by the pseudonym Jane Roe, it also pointed to other problems with U.S. immigration enforcement — including the fact that the woman was able to lie about her age, claiming to be 17 and eligible for lenient treatment, until her demand for an abortion became an issue.
Security analysts said it’s part of a growing problem of Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) lying about their ages.
“They use this as a way to get into the United States and live here for years after having gamed the system this way,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director for the Center for Immigration Studies.
Ms. Vaughan said Homeland Security has been overwhelmed by the surge of Unaccompanied Alien Children, or UAC, in the last few years and aren’t doing thorough checks on those that are detained at the border.
In the abortion case, Ms. Roe had claimed she was 17 when she was arrested. She maintained that stance during her time in government custody, dating back to November. She said a government-provided doctor last month informed her she was pregnant, and she’s now in her second trimester.
“I do not want to be forced to carry a pregnancy to term against my will,” Ms. Roe said in a Dec. 15 sworn court filing, translated from her own — unspecified — language into English.
Ms. Roe’s complicated case has sent those on all sides of the debate scrambling, with judges, government lawyers, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services officials and the American Civil Liberties Union trying to work out what should happen to the young woman.
Under current interpretation of federal law and court cases, illegal immigrants under age 18 traveling without their parents who are caught at the border are to be quickly processed by Homeland Security and released to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is a division of Health and Human Services.
ORR is supposed to try to connect them with sponsors here in the U.S., to live with while awaiting immigration court proceedings. They are held in government-run shelters while awaiting sponsors.
With the number of UAC rising, the ACLU says it’s seeing an epidemic of pregnant girls ending up in government custody. The group has filed a class action lawsuit demanding the government facilitate abortion access.
Trump administration officials counter that under federal law they cannot pay for abortions except for cases of rape or incest or where the mother’s life is in danger. They have argued that transporting an illegal immigrant girl from a government-run shelter for an elective abortion would also be against the law.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan earlier this year overruled them, ordering the government to facilitate one 17-year-old Mexican girl’s abortion.
This week Judge Chutkan ordered the government to assist Ms. Roe and yet another illegal immigrant in getting abortions.
The Trump administration found a way out Tuesday, announcing it had discovered Ms. Roe wasn’t 17, as she’d claimed, but actually 19, meaning she was never eligible to be part of the more lenient UAC program.
“The determination was made after [Office of Refugee Resettlement] obtained a copy of Ms. Roe’s certificate of birth from her home country,” the government’s lawyers said.
By late Tuesday the government said Homeland Security had processed and released the woman into the community.
“Jane Roe has been transferred from the Office of Refugee Resettlement to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. ICE, in turn, has released Jane Roe on her own recognizance,” the government said.
The Justice Department declined to comment Tuesday on whether the woman would face penalties for lying under oath to the court.
Homeland Security didn’t respond to requests for comment about how Ms. Roe managed to mislead them as to her age.
ORR wasn’t able to say what sorts of checks it did in the case of Ms. Roe, but provided a policy document detailing the difficulties, including missing or fraudulent documents and being confused by the physical appearance or diminished mental capacity of some migrants.
“They’re overwhelmed,” Ms. Vaughan said. “I believe under the previous administration it wasn’t very important to them to find out whether the person was telling the truth about their age. they were more interested in releasing people as quickly as possible.
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