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Feminism Will Not Be Weaponized for Trump's War on Immigrants

We know that violence against women occurs in every country, class and culture. The White House is using this issue, in a racialized context, to close the door on immigrants.

"The root cause of gender-based violence is the same everywhere—it is gender discrimination, not culture, that drives violence against women." (David Maialetti / The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

"The root cause of gender-based violence is the same everywhere—it is gender discrimination, not culture, that drives violence against women." (David Maialetti / The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

It’s hard to keep up with the cacophony of bigoted expletives and outrages emanating from the White House. So you may have missed the Administration’s latest desperate attempt to justify its xenophobic and racist immigration policies, this time by pretending to care about women’s rights. 

Last Tuesday, the White House released a report tracking crimes committed by foreign-born individuals, including violence against women. Unsurprisingly, this racist report, mandated by Donald Trump's March 6 Muslim Ban, is couched in misleading and distorted statistics to prop up the fiction that immigrants have uniquely criminal inclinations. 

Trump launched his presidential candidacy with his fearmongering “Mexican rapists” slur. Trump-the-president delivers on the threats of Trump-the-candidate, turning that slur into a basis for racist policy. 

Considering Trump's record of misogyny, his Administration’s roll-back of protections against sexual assault, and his appointments of multiple men accused of domestic abuse, it’s hardly plausible that his White House has suddenly become concerned about violence against women. In truth, their concern for "gender-based violence committed against women by foreign nationals," as they put it, only goes so far as it can be weaponized against immigrant communities. What can we really expect from an Administration run by a self-declared pussy-grabber?  

We know that violence against women occurs in every country, class and culture. The White House is using this issue, in a racialized context, to close the door on immigrants. 

Under its section on gender-based crimes, the report states, "There are an average of 23 to 27 honor killings in the United States every year." This statistic, like many in the report, is easily debunked: there is no official count of so-called “honor killings,” and these numbers dubiously rely on applying the rate of “honor killings” in other countries to the US.

Furthermore, the term "honor killing" is an exoticized label for otherwise familiar forms of violence against women and implies that this is a specifically Muslim or foreign phenomenon. Of course, there is a cultural context to violence against women in Muslim families, just as there is a cultural context to the 321,500 cases of rape and sexual assault in the US every year, to rampant workplace sexual harassment in this country, and to the fact that an average of 50 women are shot to death every month by intimate partners in the US.

The root cause of gender-based violence is the same everywhere—it is gender discrimination, not culture, that drives violence against women.

By attacking entire immigrant communities, the Trump Administration has in fact made it harder for survivors of domestic violence in those communities to speak out and get help, for fear that they will put their friends and family at risk. For Trump, this is not about protecting women. It's about shutting our borders to non-white immigrants and threatening their communities.

The Trump Administration gets no points for originality here. This racist trope is as old as colonialism: white supremacists have long staked their power in the idea of violent and over-sexualized brown and black men who abuse women and who must be controlled. We’ve seen this logic mobilized to justify everything from US segregation to the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

In each instance, women are treated as pawns in a racist game—one that feminists must refuse to play. We refuse to be baited into vilifying immigrant communities, just as we demand real action to confront all violence against women, no matter who the perpetrator. 

Trump puts us all on the chopping block—women, people of color, immigrants, anyone on the wrong side of his Administration’s hateful agenda. Our futures depend on resisting his divide-and-conquer tactics. We will stand with survivors of gender-based violence and confront policies that play to racism. If we attempt one without the other, we leave people behind. When we do both together, we build the future we’re fighting for.

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Yifat Susskind

Yifat Susskind is the Executive Director of MADRE, an international women's human rights organization. She has worked with women’s human rights activists from Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Africa to create programs in their communities to address women's health, violence against women, economic and environmental justice and peace building. She has also written extensively on US foreign policy and women’s human rights and her critical analysis has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy in Focus and elsewehere.

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