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Immigration News: 'Birth Tourism,' Border Wall Costs, Travel Ban Expansion


This past week, the Trump administration contemplated some dramatic new changes to our nation's immigration policies. The U.S. has announced it will place visa restrictions on pregnant women traveling to the United States. The aim, it says, is to curb so-called birth tourism. There have also been reports that the travel ban will be expanded to include some African countries. And the price tag of Trump's border wall, we have learned - 11 billion - would make it the most expensive wall anywhere in the world.

To discuss the many ways in which this administration is shaping our immigration system, we're joined now by Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. Welcome.

SARAH PIERCE: Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this administration is taking aim at illegal and legal immigration, but let's start with the restriction on visas for pregnant women. Why did they do it?

PIERCE: Just like you said, they - they're trying to curb a practice that they've coined birth tourism, in which women come to the United States explicitly to take advantage of what's called birthright citizenship, the fact that anyone born in the United States gets U.S. citizenship. The president has threatened, therefore, to enact a executive order to destroy, really, birthright citizenship. So this issue, even though it's quite small, has always been a bit of a pet issue for them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. We should say it's not clear how big an issue so-called birth tourism is. The State Department said when they announced it that they estimate it involves thousands of children. That's a quote. But there were 3.8 million births in 2018 in the United States.

PIERCE: Exactly. The Center for Disease Control estimates that each year, 10,000 or less babies are born in the United States to foreign national women who reside outside of the United States. So we think this is a relatively small issue.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's move on to the idea of extending the travel ban, which has been floated. The anniversary of the first travel ban is this week. What do we know about this?

PIERCE: Yeah, absolutely. The president did seem to confirm himself that they would be adding countries. He did not confirm which countries it would be. We expect this possibly might come out on Monday. It is in line with what the administration has said before about the travel ban - that they'll be regularly reassessing which countries should be on the travel ban, which countries are keeping in line with the security criteria that they had put in place and maybe which countries should come off the travel ban as well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Trump is meanwhile trying to build his border wall at huge cost. But some people have pointed out that Mexico is now acting as a kind of wall. We've seen some dramatic scenes over the past few weeks there of how Mexican authorities were cracking down on migrant caravans.

PIERCE: Yeah, absolutely. The pressure that the Trump administration has placed on Mexico to increase their enforcement of migration through the country is really playing out. I don't think that it's sustainable. You know, we cannot outsource our border security to another country forever. But I - of course, I don't think a border wall is an effective way for us to have border security.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, you watch Trump's policies. How effective has the cumulative effect of all these policies been? I mean, are we seeing a reshaping, a refashioning of how this country has - does immigration?

PIERCE: They've managed to decrease legal flows into the country - not significantly. But as far as unauthorized flows, they've been, honestly, extremely effective. So 2019 was a wild year. We had a huge increase of individuals - or, really, mostly asylum-seekers coming to the southern border. And the administration implemented, really, a hodgepodge of policies at the southern border to effectively block asylum-seekers from applying for asylum at the southern border or, if they're able to apply for asylum, to block them from entering the United States while they're waiting for those asylum applications to be adjudicated.

And those policies honestly have been working. We've seen a huge decrease in apprehensions at our southern border. I don't know how sustainable they are, but this administration has been effective, at least, in decreasing them temporarily.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Sarah Pierce from the Migration Policy Institute. Thank you very much.

PIERCE: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.