Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Reproductive Justice Organizations Condemn Regulations Restricting Visas for Pregnant People

February 5, 2020:

Over 150 organizations have issued a joint statement calling on Mike Pompeo to rescind a regulation that makes it tougher for pregnant people to visit the U.S. on tourist visas, which will predominantly impact travelers from Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Trump administration asserts that the regulations are aimed at cracking down on "birth tourism."

According to the Wall Street Journal:

The new rules direct consular officers in foreign embassies to deny tourist visas, known as B visas, to any pregnant woman they believe is looking to travel to the U.S. to give birth. It will be the responsibility of the pregnant woman to convince officers she wants to visit the U.S. for a primary reason other than to give birth.

Because the U.S.'s Visa Waiver Program enables most citizens from European countries and wealthy Asian countries (Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan) to enter the U.S. for 90 days without a visa, the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and over 150 other organizations that work on immigration, reproductive health, rights and justice, workers' rights, civil liberties and human rights have criticized the regulations as "thinly veiled racist and xenophobic attacks on the health, dignity, and well-being of pregnant people in other, largely non-European countries and immigrant women of color and their families."

Another problem with the regulations is that they give consular officials significant discretion, and decisions are virtually non-reviewable. Officials can deny visas if "they have reason to believe [the individual] intends to travel for [the purpose of obtaining citizenship for the child]." The Wall Street Journal quoted a senior state department official who said that "[v]isual cues can be enough for an officer to ask questions about pregnancy," but officers "won’t use pregnancy tests."

The joint statement criticizes the regulations for opening the door to racial and gender profiling, body shaming" and "invasive and coercive questioning."  Last month, a woman boarding a flight in Hong Kong to the U.S. island of Saipan was forced to take a pregnancy test before boarding the plane after she was told that the test was required for women "observed to have a body size or shape resembling a pregnant woman." 

Because the rule constitutes a "substantial change in policy" without "any clear national security rationale," leading Democratic Senators have called for suspension of the rule until additional information is obtained.  The letter notes that the State Department failed to provide support for its “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.” The letter also expressed concern that "Department officials were unable to explain how consular staff would implement this sensitive policy without discriminating against pregnant women, or impacting visitor visa applicants traveling to the United States for medical treatment."

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