Why Women Will Be Hardest Hit by President Biden’s Executive Order

Women fleeing persecution and violence do not deserve to be caught up in election year politics. 

Sulan, a migrant woman from Venezuela, is comforted by her daughter as she cries while retelling her journey to reach El Paso, Texas, on April 2, 2024. (Christian Monterrosa / AFP via Getty Images)

President Biden signed an executive order on Tuesday that will temporarily close the United States border to all border crossers—including asylum seekers—if the number of border crossings reaches a certain threshold. This proposal goes against the spirit and the letter of both national and international law granting people the right to cross international borders to seek asylum to escape persecution. It is completely legal for people to come to the United States and ask for asylum.

Many people are likely to suffer as a result of Biden’s action—especially women from Mexico and Central America desperate for safety because of gender-based violence in their home countries. 

Asylum needs to be understood as a distinct system from other avenues for migration. The present U.S. asylum system was created after World War II to provide protection for people from other countries seeking protection from persecution. Americans have historically embraced the idea of the United States as a haven for those who have suffered violence and oppression. The promise of this protection needs to be upheld, and a broader understanding of who seeks asylum in the U.S. needs to be incorporated into public debate to ensure a fair and just system. 

Women from Mexico and Central America make up nearly half of all asylum seekers. We know from our recent research that the number of women seeking asylum in the U.S. because of severe domestic violence and gang-related violence has increased in recent years. These women have been victims of rapes, death threats, kidnapping, assaults with weapons, extortion and threats to recruit their young children into gangs. Women have sought safety by reaching the U.S.’ southern border via clandestine means, then crossing in search of a Border Patrol agent to begin the legal asylum process. These women are fleeing persecution from countries in Latin America; they are not “illegal” migrants and do not deserve to be caught up in election year politics. 

Despite political rhetoric to the contrary, obtaining asylum at the southern border is not easy. It is an arduous process that requires migrants to present a meticulous legal case and prove to an immigration judge that they meet demanding criteria. The entire process is lengthy and difficult; the Migration Policy Institute notes that an asylum case typically takes more than four years to be heard in Immigration Court. Women must relive their horrific trauma and simultaneously argue that they deserve protection. Most are returned to their home country anyway.

Anyone who has followed these cases knows that the asylum process is not a simple path toward legal residency in the United States, and cannot be entered into lightly.

The Biden order will endanger the lives of women fleeing persecution who end up at our southern border. Yes, the asylum system must be updated to address current realities. We need more asylum officers, more immigration judges and better guidance regarding cases that involve gender-based violence. With resources, the system could work more efficiently, but denying individuals the ability to apply for asylum will not resolve any problems and will only result in more suffering.

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About and

Carol Cleaveland is associate professor of social work at George Mason University. She is the co-author of the forthcoming book PRIVATE VIOLENCE: Latin American Women and the Struggle for Asylum (NYU Press).
Michele Waslin is interim director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota. She is co-author of the forthcoming book PRIVATE VIOLENCE: Latin American Women and the Struggle for Asylum (NYU Press).