Earlier this month, I hosted a CFR roundtable with Becca Heller, director and cofounder of the International Refugee Assistance Project. Heller spearheaded the first lawsuit challenging President Trump’s “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” executive order, which, among other things, suspended travel from six predominantly Muslim countries. Heller is a rising star of her generation, with the New York Times recently calling her a “young firebrand.” My discussion with Heller brought to light some of the challenges women face at the intersection of immigration and gender.
So what’s gender got to do with the Trump administration’s crack down on immigration? The various immigration executive orders, which I have discussed in detail elsewhere, are part of a broader set of policies President Trump has promoted to restrict immigration to the United States. Heller shared with us a story about a young woman who had that very morning (of our CFR event) flown into California on a tourist visa with her family. The woman’s youngest daughter was a U.S. citizen, having been born in the United States when the family was on a previous trip. When the family arrived at customs on this recent trip, the mother was taken into custody by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Once in custody, CBP officials told her that they were revoking her visa. They claimed that the last time she visited the United States, it was solely for the purpose of having her baby so that the baby would be a U.S. citizen, which meant, according to CBP, she had received the visa on presumably fraudulent grounds and was therefore not allowed to enter the United States again. Ultimately, she decided to return to India and challenge the visa revocation from the comfort of home, rather than remain in detention, while lawyers work to seek a reversal of the revocation. Becca noted that “If that’s not gender discrimination in the context of the [new immigration policies], I do not know what is.”
As I have written before, President Trump’s executive orders on immigration disproportionately impact women. The United States is the largest refugee resettlement country in the world and accepts, on average, a higher proportion of women and children. The case of the Indian woman is an example of how immigration enforcement also disproportionately impacts women. She was given a choice of detention or being returned, based on the fact that she previously gave birth in the United States. By contrast, her husband was allowed entry during this recent trip. Last time we checked, it takes a mother and a father to make a baby. Yet only the mother, in this instance, was targeted. Not only does the current administration’s stance on immigration harm women, but many of the arguments for its policies simply do not add up.
While President Trump issued a revised executive order that replaced his earlier controversial order on immigration, both orders have been blocked by federal court. Much of the discussion around the Trump administration’s stance on immigration has revolved around issues of national security and public safety. Yet, the United States already has an extremely rigorous and in-depth vetting process for refugees before they are granted asylum. The process for some can take up to two years, if not longer. National security experts across party lines have indicated that not only does the travel suspension in Trump’s immigration executive order not achieve national security goals, it may, in fact, undermine them. President Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security (DHS) prepared a report indicating that singling out particular countries from which to suspend travel is an unreliable method for identifying individual terrorists. In fact, many individuals fleeing these very countries are themselves the victims or potential victims of terrorism and persecution. Another DHS document noted that most of the cases of terrorism that administration officials pointed to (in order to justify the executive order) concerned cases of individuals who were either not born in the countries that the executive order targeted or involved individuals who were born and grew up in the United States—many of whom were potentially radicalized at home, not abroad.
On the public safety front, data has shown that immigrants are not more likely to commit crimes. In fact, many studies show that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than citizens born in the United States. Furthermore, a study published by the conservative think tank, the Cato Institute, reflects that immigrants are also less likely to use public assistance programs like Medicaid or the Supplemental Assistance Program than people born in the United States. Instead, there are many ways that immigrants build and strengthen our economy—by paying taxes, starting business, and working.