HomeBirth TourismUPDATED: Experts Say Restrictions on Travel Visa for Pregnant Women May Discriminate...

UPDATED: Experts Say Restrictions on Travel Visa for Pregnant Women May Discriminate Against AAPI Immigrants

The Trump administration’s “travel ban” could open the door to discriminating against pregnant immigrant women, said policy and legal experts in a press call on Monday. This morning (Tuesday, February 4), 150 organizations called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to rescind a new regulation taking affect this Friday that would deny pregnant women visas to enter the United States.

“This ugly development is ultimately an issue of racial profiling of Asians,” said Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), in the call. “Millions of Asian people come to the U.S. to visit their families and targeting them because of their race or country of origin is discriminatory and wrong.

“The Trump administration’s goal is to deny people of color entry to the United States, period. “This rule treats pregnant people of color as inherently guilty, unworthy of respect, and subjects us to bizarre and invasive tests before we can move about the world. We’re calling on Secretary Pompeo to rescind the regulation immediately. By failing to act, he makes it clear he believes this country belongs to white people and is willing to intimidate and demean pregnant Asian people to prove the case.”

The State Department’s new rule, announced Thursday, gives visa officials the authority to block pregnant women from visiting the U.S. The consulate officers may reject those whom they believe are entering the country for the “primary purpose” of “birth tourism,” or a specific trip to the U.S. in order to obtain citizenship for their children.

In order to do so, the rule is re-evaluating the meaning of “pleasure” and recreational visits, adding restrictions on those seeking to enter with a category B nonimmigrant visa, issued for temporary visits for purposes such as tourism, visiting friends and family, or medical treatment. It also specifies that visitors must be able to pay for all medical care they may receive in the U.S.

Activist leaders all condemned the particular aspect of the administration’s travel ban as a targeted reproductive health attack on women — particularly immigrants.

U.S. consulate officers, who do not have professional medical training, can “ask intrusive questions and make judgments,” which may prove unsafe and cause potential medical complications, said Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch and former USCIS Chief Counsel, during the call.

Choimorrow said that she herself experienced harassment at an airport when she was pregnant, AsAm News reported.

This travel restriction comes at the heels of a Hong Kong-based airline apologizing for forcing a 25-year-old Japanese woman to take a pregnancy test before her flight to a U.S. commonwealth, according to CNN.

NAPAWF is not aware of any other similar Asian-targeted incidents, said Nikki Metzgar, NAPAWF’s media contact.

Since consulate officer decisions are not reviewable, this rule “leaves the door open” to pregnancy discrimination, said Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi, an OB/GYN and Board Member with Physicians for Reproductive Health, on the call.

Thus, officers can ask “any 20-year-old” or someone of “child-bearing age” if she intends to or is pregnant, Dr. Moayedi said. If the person takes a pregnancy test, she added, it may not be accurate — for instance, in detecting a tumor that may exhibit similar hormones to a pregnancy.

There has been a history of federal agents conducting crackdowns on alleged “multimillion-dollar birth tourism businesses” catering to mainland Chinese women, particularly in 2015 and in 2019. The latter was located in southern California, which advertised housing, hotels, shopping, and nannies in expensive packages.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) numbers say “approximately 9,300 children were born in the United States to mothers who live overseas in 2017, with an additional 900 born in U.S. territories,” Reuters reported. However, the agency does not count the number of babies born to tourists specifically.

Thirty-nine countries do not have their citizens apply for a visa to come to the U.S., mostly from “western and industrialized countries,” which leaves out many Latin American, African, and Asian countries, Jaddou said during the call.

Choimorrow called this a “racial disparity,” adding that the new rule will also make it “impossible for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to seek asylum.”

But the State Department said “birth tourism poses risks to national security,” adding that the practice has created an industry “rife with criminal activity, including international criminal schemes.”

“Closing this glaring immigration loophole will combat these endemic abuses and ultimately protect the United States from the national security risks created by this practice,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement last week. “It will also defend American taxpayers from having their hard-earned dollars siphoned away to finance the direct and downstream costs associated with birth tourism.”

However, there is no law that bans immigrant women from entering the U.S. to give birth, and is protected under the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees children born on U.S. or in U.S. territories soil to be U.S. citizens.

NAPAWF is interested in filing a legal challenge to this rule, Choimorrow said during the call. The organization has had conversations with representatives and has discussed filing objections during the comment period, she said.

It praised a letter in which five senators demanded the halt of said travel restrictions to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The letter was signed by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).

“State Department officials were unable to provide any rationale for limiting the travel of pregnant women and their families,” the senators said in the letter. “Administration officials repeated unsubstantiated claims of so-called ‘birth tourism’ often advanced by nativist, restrictionist groups and provided no data corroborating the existence of a widespread problem or national security risk.”

Choimorrow, during the call, said that the administration has a “track record of detaining pregnant people,” and preventing families from seeing each other because of harsh immigration laws and visa backlogs.

“This is one more thing that can separate families,” said Choimorrow.

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