“When you leave your country, this is what you’re in for”: experiences of structural, legal, and gender-based violence among asylum-seeking women at the Mexico-U.S. border.

Publication date: Sep 02, 2023

Recent U. S. immigration policy has increasingly focused on asylum deterrence and has been used extensively to rapidly deport and deter asylum-seekers, leaving thousands of would-be asylum-seekers waiting indefinitely in Mexican border cities, a large and growing proportion of whom are pregnant and parenting women. In the border city of Tijuana, Mexico, these women are spending unprecedented durations waiting under unsafe humanitarian conditions to seek safety in the U. S, with rising concerns regarding increases in gender-based violence (GBV) among this population during the COVID-19 pandemic. Given existing gaps in evidence, we aimed to describe the lived experiences of GBV in the context of asylum deterrence policies among pregnant and parenting asylum-seeking women at the Mexico-U. S. border. Within the community-based Maternal and Infant Health for Refugee & Asylum-Seeking Women (MIHRA) study, we conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews with 30 asylum-seeking women in Tijuana, Mexico between June and December 2022. Eligible women had been pregnant or postpartum since March 2020, were 18-49 years old, and migrated for the purposes of seeking asylum in the U. S. Drawing on conceptualizations of structural and legal violence, we conducted a thematic analysis of participants’ experiences of GBV in the context of asylum deterrence policies and COVID-19. Pregnant and parenting asylum-seeking women routinely faced multiple forms of GBV perpetuated by asylum deterrence policies at all stages of migration (pre-migration, in transit, and in Tijuana). Indefinite wait times to cross the border and inadequate/unsafe shelter exacerbated further vulnerability to GBV. Repeated exposure to GBV contributed to poor mental health among women who reported feelings of fear, isolation, despair, shame, and anxiety. The lack of supports and legal recourse related to GBV in Tijuana highlighted the impact of asylum deterrence policies on this ongoing humanitarian crisis. Asylum deterrence policies undermine the health and safety of pregnant and parenting asylum-seeking women at the Mexico-U. S. border. There is an urgent need to end U. S. asylum deterrence policies and to provide respectful, appropriate, and adequately resourced humanitarian supports to pregnant and parenting asylum-seeking women in border cities, to reduce women’s risk of GBV and trauma.

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Concepts Keywords
December Asylum deterrence
Humanitarian COVID-19
Interviews Gender-based violence
June Immigration policy
Mexican Migration
Structural violence


Type Source Name
disease IDO country
disease MESH gender-based violence
disease VO population
disease MESH COVID-19 pandemic
disease MESH violence
disease VO LACK
pathway REACTOME Reproduction
disease MESH sexually transmitted infections
disease MESH unintended pregnancy
disease MESH death
disease MESH post traumatic stress disorder
disease MESH suicidal ideation
drug DRUGBANK Tretamine
disease VO protocol
disease IDO history
drug DRUGBANK Trestolone
disease IDO process
disease VO Gap
disease VO organization
drug DRUGBANK Huperzine B
drug DRUGBANK Water
drug DRUGBANK Etoperidone
disease VO mouth
drug DRUGBANK Ranitidine
drug DRUGBANK L-Citrulline
drug DRUGBANK Indoleacetic acid
disease VO pregnant women
disease MESH emergencies
drug DRUGBANK Coenzyme M
drug DRUGBANK Albendazole
drug DRUGBANK Methylergometrine
disease VO effective
disease MESH preterm birth
disease MESH anomalies
disease VO document
drug DRUGBANK Ademetionine
disease VO time
disease VO USA
disease VO Equity
disease VO Canada
disease MESH Infectious Diseases
drug DRUGBANK Cyclic Adenosine Monophosphate
drug DRUGBANK Trihexyphenidyl
drug DRUGBANK Pentaerythritol tetranitrate
drug DRUGBANK Gold
drug DRUGBANK Rifampicin
disease MESH uncertainty
disease VO report
disease MESH family violence

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