The Trump administration is reversing a policy that exempts pregnant immigrants from immigration detention.

The change in protocol follows after the Department of Homeland Security issued a directive in 2016 saying that pregnant women should not be detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), unless extraordinary circumstances exist.

Pregnant women will now be treated like any other immigrant suspected of being in the United States illegally, according to the new directive, which was first reported by The Hill.

An internal email describing the shift said that the change is meant to better align with an immigration executive order signed by President Donald Trump last year. That executive order, signed in January of 2017 soon after Mr Trump took the oath of office, broadened the description of people who could be deemed a priority for removal from the United States through deportation.

Human rights organisations have knocked the new ICE policy, saying that it shows a pattern of cruelty towards undocumented immigrants and women from Mr Trump’s administration.

“This new policy further exposes the cruelty of Trump’s detention and deportation force by endangering the lives of pregnant immigrant women,” Victoria Lopez, a senior counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. ”It removes critical protections for this vulnerable population and eliminates key reporting requirements for oversight of a detention system that needs more, not less, transparency and accountability.”

Michelle Brané, the director of the Migrants Rights and Justice program with the Women’s refugee commission, said that the new policy is counterintuitive, and presents fresh risks for women who may be coming to the United States to get away from domestic violence and the rape that led to pregnancy in the first place.

“In another attack on women and children, the Trump administration has ended its policy of avoiding detention of pregnant women. The Women’s Refugee Commission has long documented the dangerous and unhealthy detention conditions that are especially dangerous and inappropriate for pregnant women,” Ms Brané said in a statement.

“Many women are pregnant as a result of rape and violence that they experienced either on the journey to the U.S. or that may be part of an asylum claim,” she continued. “Detention is especially traumatic for pregnant women and even more so for victims of rape and gender-based violence. WRC condemns this decision to no longer protect expecting mothers and their unborn children.”

The email announcing the change in policy continues to note that pregnant women in their third trimester will not be detained “absent extraordinary circumstances”. The note also says that ICE agents will consider each pregnant immigrant on a case-by-case basis to determine if the women should be detained or let go.

ICE has not responded to a request for comment and confirmation regarding the shift in policy.