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Another Type of Asylum Seeker

sel209's picture

Last Thursday, I attended a discussion with my Transitions to Adulthood class about the difficulties undocumented Americans face throughout their lifetimes. Since my knowledge of the topic was limited, I decided to do some research so that I would be well prepared for both class and community discussion. While researching, I stumbled upon this article: “Undocumented Women Forced To Give Birth While Shackled And In Police Custody“ To give you the Cliff Notes version, the article states that it’s legal in over half the states in the US to handcuff women to hospital beds while they’re giving birth if they’re being held for a criminal offense (in this case, being an undocumented immigrant).  Additionally, in most instances, women are not allowed to have family members present while they’re giving birth, nor are they allowed to hold their newborns past the babies’ first 24 hours of life  (unless, of course, there is no American relative to care for a baby, in which case it’s shipped out of the country with the rest of the family despite being an American citizen).


I am compelled to share this article in light of watching Butler’s lectures as well as reading both Farmer’s and Cleaver’s works. In Cleaver’s novel, Little Bee is an asylum seeker, a refugee who is searching for an escape from the horrors of her native country. While these terms typically refer to one who has fled one’s country because of violence or persecution, it could be said that many undocumented women are asylum seekers in their own right. Countless numbers of these women are searching for an existence free of threat and hardship for themselves and their children, which is something Butler tells us we are all entitled to: a livable life. As an aside, I’m still sort of grappling with the point at which entitlement should override law, an issue that’s relevant to Little Bee’s story. Regardless, the issue I’m currently concerned with is shackling women in labor, undocumented or otherwise. The fact that this law is still in effect leads me to think about Butler’s commentary on our ethical obligations to people who are not in close proximity to us, though in this case I’m using the word proximity more abstractly than perhaps she meant it to be used. We might not consider undocumented immigrants to be our so-called "ethical obligation" because they’re disobeying our laws, but shouldn’t we afford all women the right to have a child without the additional pain of handcuffs digging into their wrists? They’re not going to run away at 8 centimeters dilated; what’s the point other than to punish and to shame? Perhaps I’ve found the right relationship I’d like to consider for my next web event…


Kaye's picture

MCC's program to prevent shackling

The Maternity Care Coalition, which provides perinatal care for women and their children in the Philadelphia region, started a MOMobile program at Riverside Correctional Facility for women.  Here, incarecerated women were shackled while giving birth and MCC mounted a successful program to stop this practice in Pennsylvania.  Check out the video from the BBC about their work.