clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Hillary Clinton’s email about a child bride reminds us what most of the country believes about refugees

“Could we get her to the US for counseling and education?”

If you buy something from a Vox link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

hillary clinton (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Nearly 3 million more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. And Clinton, it’s worth remembering, had virtually the opposite policy and emotional intuitions toward refugees as Trump. Which is all to say that while Trump has the power to make policy here, it is not at all clear he represents the center of popular opinion on this issue.

On the campaign trail, Trump advocated for ceasing immigration and refugee resettlement of Muslims. He has compared Syrian refugees to snakes. In his executive order, Trump halted all settlement of refugees from Syria.

Clinton, by contrast, proposed increasing Syrian refugee quotas from 10,000 a year to 65,000. And one of Clinton’s leaked emails provides a glimpse into her private concerns for and actions on behalf of one young Muslim woman.

Clinton demonstrated a sense of humanitarian obligation to refugees and immigrants in dire straits.

In her August 2009 email, Clinton refers to a CNN story that came out that month about a young Yemeni girl named Nujood Ali, who was the first child bride in her country to legally end her marriage nearly two years earlier. Clinton met Ali at a Glamour event in 2008, where Ali was honored as a Woman of the Year along with her lawyer, Shada Nasser.

When Clinton learned through CNN’s coverage that Ali was deeply distraught, that her life was grim (“I hoped there was someone to help us, but we didn't find anyone to help us,” Ali told CNN) and that Ali was not even attending school, despite widespread international support and fundraising to help her, Clinton reached out to Melanne Verveer, her former chief of staff at the Clinton Foundation. “Is there any way we can help her?” asked Clinton. “Could we get her to the US for counseling and education?”

Nujood Ali in a 2008 TV appearance.
Hannes Magerstaedt/Getty Images

Clinton didn’t just seek to check in on the girl or see what funds could be sent to improve her situation — her immediate response was to find out if Ali could come to the United States to benefit from our robust counseling and educational resources. Clinton’s generosity in this instance is in no way predictive of the kind of president she might have been, but it does suggest that Clinton would have operated under the belief that the US should open its doors to those, like Ali, in deeply difficult circumstances.

Unfortunately, when the Huffington Post caught up with Ali in November of 2016, her situation was still fraught. According to reporting by Akbar Shahid Ahmed, at 18 Ali was remarried with two daughters, and she had had to fight her own father for the royalties of her best-selling book and for the home that was purchased for her by her French publisher. “Today, Ali’s family is enduring a fresh challenge,” continued Ahmed. “Like millions of Yemenis, they are caught in the war between a Saudi-led coalition trying to restore the country’s government and Iran-backed rebels who want to change it.” Ali had recently been treated for tuberculosis and there was concern that medical supplies were running low due to the conflict. A recent estimate put civilian casualties of the Yemen civil war at 10,000.

Per Trump’s executive order, Yemen is one of the seven Muslim-majority countries whose citizens are banned from entering the United States for at least 90 days.

Again, Trump won the election. But he didn’t win the most votes. The fact that America is doing this doesn’t mean Americans believe in this.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.