Americans, for the first time in a decade, saw their president put forward immigration policy with little to no acknowledgement of its implications for women.
But those concerns should be neither limited to the Democrats nor to people of color. Addressing immigration, even in a peripheral way, may have had some harmful consequences for the people at the receiving end, the young women born to undocumented immigrants.
Last week, Senator Joe Biden said that he would be willing to risk losing a floor vote for a bill that would allow pregnant women who came to the United States illegally to obtain citizenship.
Mr. Biden’s personal experiences with abortion legislation were thrown into the spotlight because, when he became vice president, Bill Clinton had used his office to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants with children born in the United States.
The process was complicated and it seemed impossible for pregnant women with ill children, other than those living in deportation danger, to come forward to apply. President Barack Obama took the opposite approach, setting a higher standard for defining a “bona fide relationship” that immigrants must have with the United States to apply for legal residency.
The Obama policy had a profound effect on undocumented immigrants’ families. Mr. Biden wrote in his memoir that he was the first unmarried Senate member to support a bill on Capitol Hill to allow “Dreamers” to become citizens.
“The children of immigrants are American in every way but the papers we put on their foreheads,” Mr. Biden wrote.
But in recent years, while undocumented immigrants may have received better treatment, pregnant women caught in the immigration system have become a whole new group that more Americans should be concerned about.
Last year, more than 24,000 pregnant women traveled across the border in search of political asylum or safety from political persecution, according to the annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the agency responsible for investigating international political refugees. A significant percentage traveled to the United States, the world’s most generous destination country.
Last week, Congressman Jim McGovern, a Democrat of Massachusetts, introduced legislation that would allow the undocumented, women and children, to seek asylum in the United States and receive legal residency.
If Mr. Biden’s bill becomes law, it would mean that undocumented mothers, children and all other immigrants, who came to the United States before June 21, 2011, would qualify for such protection.
But the bill’s exclusions and very broad terms — defined by a Congressional Research Service report — mean that immigrant women who already have secured protection or those facing the risk of a family crisis but can’t make it to American soil could still find themselves deported.
The US is not obligated to provide non-citizen women with legal residency or even a work permit. But our foreign policy may be detrimental to American security.
A recent study by the Brookings Institution found that asylum-seekers with an existing family in the United States are less likely to be deported than those without one. The study also found that the arrests of adult male asylum-seekers with a prior criminal record were significantly higher than those with a prior deportation record.
In an effort to attract both visitors and immigrants, the United States needs to update its immigration laws for the sake of women and children. It should not be locked down to mothers who lived in the United States without documentation.