Trump made an alarming comment about mothers giving their daughters birth control before they migrate

Alex BrandonPresident Donald Trump speaks about the partial government shutdown, immigration and border security in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019.
  • President Donald Trump said Saturday mothers were giving their daughters birth control pills before they migrate to the southern border to seek entry to the United States.
  • Though the remark caught many off guard, sexual assault and abuse is a well-documented danger of migration to the border and Trump’s claim about birth control has been reported before.
  • There have been previous reports of female migrants seeking birth control in anticipation of their journeys through Mexico, but humanitarian organisations indicate this is a worldwide trend among female migrants, rather than a trend specific to migration from Central America to the US.

In a televised speech from the White House on Saturday, President Donald Trump made an alarming claim about the violence faced by women who travel to the US border seeking entry.

In discussing the threats faced by women and children who journey to the US from Central America, Trump said mothers were giving their daughters birth control pills before they migrate to the southern border because of the high rates of sexual assault suffered by migrant women along their journeys.

“Thousands of children are being exploited by ruthless coyotes and vicious cartels and gangs,” Trump said, using a term for a smuggler who brings others to the border.

Trump made the remarks as he proposed a deal with Democrats to exchange border-wall funding for temporary protections for certain immigrants.

“One in three women is sexually assaulted on the dangerous journey north,” Trump said. “In fact, many loving mothers give their young daughters birth control pills for the long journey up to the United States because they know they may be raped or sexually accosted or assaulted. “

Trump has cited the sexual assault statistic before when pushing for his long-promised border wall, and sexual assault is indeed prevalent within groups of migrants who seek entry through the southern border. Estimates from nonprofits including Amnesty International say six out of every 10 female migrants encounter sexual abuse.

Read more: Thousands more children were separated from their parents at the border than were previously known, inspector general reveals in bombshell report

But Trump’s mention of young female migrants being given birth control in preparation for the journey is a less-discussed feature of difficulties facing immigrant women, though it’s not a new claim.

Chris Cabrera, US Customs and Border Protection agent and spokesperson for the National Border Patrol Council, told CNN in June 2018 that agents at the border have seen girls as young as 12 years old who are put on birth control “because they know getting violated is part of the journey.”

A PBS report from 2014 said pharmacies in smuggling towns are familiar with young girls seeking birth control pills or shots, sometimes on advice from the “coyotes” who are leading their trek and who perpetrate much of the sexual abuse suffered by female migrants.

Sexual abuse is so widespread that all female migrants over the age of 10 are given pregnancy tests, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said last year, because “that is how dangerous the journey is.”

The Christian Science Monitor previously reported that some girls may find they are pregnant only through screenings given by US agents upon reaching the border, which would be the first medical examination they could access since beginning their journey.

It isn’t only migrants seeking entry to the US who go on birth control to survive their journeys. A researcher with Human Rights Watch told Reuters in 2016 that women who flee political unrest, severe poverty, and war across the world anticipate rape once they flee, and prepare by taking contraceptives.

Even upon reaching the border, female migrants face difficulties including widespread abuse, with Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees filing over 1,200 sexual abuse complaints over seven years. Of those, half of the alleged perpetrators were ICE officers.

It’s not clear how Trump’s long-desired border wall would affect the plight of female migrants, but Trump has described tightened border security as a potential deterrent to those looking to reach the southern US border.

Inside the border, the administration has faced outcry for reports of pregnant migrant women miscarrying in US custody and lawmakers last year introduced the Stop Shackling and Detaining Pregnant Women Act.

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