SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Women who are pregnant may soon find it harder to visit the United States. The State Department is expanding the power of consular officers. They can now deny a pregnant woman a tourist visa if she is suspected of travelling to the U.S. to gain citizenship for her child. The Trump administration believes this new rule, which went into effect Friday, will limit what they call birth tourism. But opponents of the rule say a consular officer's decision will be solely based on a woman's appearance.
Ur Jaddou, director of Department of Homeland Security Watch for America's Voice, joins us. Thank you for being with us.
UR JADDOU: Thank you for inviting me.
SIMON: What's your reaction to this rule?
JADDOU: Well, when you look at the new language in the regulation that went into effect just Friday, it very specifically says that if a consular officer has reason to believe the woman will give birth during her stay in the United States, now she has a presumption to overcome that she is traveling for the primary purpose of obtaining U.S. citizenship for the child. She now has a higher burden than any other applicant who's trying to come to the United States to visit Disney World, for a business trip, for a conference or, for that matter, to seek specialized medical care to maybe save her child's life and maybe that of her own.
SIMON: What's - I think you've outlined some of it, but what are your concerns about how this rule might be used, particularly given the administration policies we've seen over the past couple of years?
JADDOU: Well, the most obvious concern is, what does reason to believe will give birth during her stay in the United States actually mean? When a consular officer is given that discretion to determine that, does that mean a woman that might have a belly bump or perhaps might have a little extra weight - is she all of a sudden faced with questions about her reproductive cycle?
As you can see, the questions start becoming quite absurd. However, the actual language is drafted in a way that's even broader and could potentially lead to even more absurd results because visitor visas are often granted for up to 10 years. And in that case, a consular officer could have reason to believe that even a non-pregnant woman, just because she is of childbearing age, could one day use that visa to give birth in the United States.
SIMON: To the best of your knowledge, is this a policy that's also extended to Department of Homeland Security officers?
JADDOU: So that's what's so interesting about this. This is a State Department regulation, which means it will apply to anybody that needs a visa to travel to the United States. It will not apply to 39 countries who participate in a program called the Visa Waiver Program. Foreign nationals from these countries do not need to go to a consulate and obtain a visa to travel to the United States. So it won't apply to them. And those countries are generally the Western, more industrialized nation. But this - the new rule applies to everybody else. So as you can see, it's also having some racial disparities, which is also extremely concerning for many of us.
SIMON: Ur Jaddou, director of Department of Homeland Security Watch for America's Voice. Thank you so much for being with us.
JADDOU: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.