Donald Trump’s order that the US be closed to the nationals of several Muslim-majority countries is a particularly egregious intensification of the racist immigration policies that many “liberal democracies” have pursued in recent years. It isn’t clear at the moment how this story will develop, with various US courts taking action against the order but with Homeland Security apparently indicating that they will continue to enforce it. As everybody now knows, it is being enforced even against US permanent residents who were on trips abroad, against people transiting US airports on their way back to other countries, against students in the middle of their courses. It is separating loved ones, including parents from children (a very prominent case being the British-Somali athlete Mo Farah). It also seems to be the case that the US is failing to allow people to claim asylum and have their cases properly assessed, as the 1951 Refugee Convention requires as well as US law, and that the US has engaged in some breaches of the non-refoulement obligation towards those seeking asylum.
Naturally, there are calls for European politicians to protest. Theresa May, just back from Washington and then from selling fighter-planes to Turkey’s Erdogan seemed reluctant to do so at first, but someone from 10 Downing Street has now issued a weakish condemnation. Well, ok, but what’s new here? Both European states and the US have long given people a harder time based on their country of origin and poor people from a long list of states have no chance of entering the territory by non-clandestine means. We all know of the appalling death toll in the Sahara, the Mediterranean, up through Mexico and in the Arizona desert. Wealthy states, such as Australia and the US under Clinton, have already breached the non-refoulement provisions of the Convention on many occasions, and now often pay poorer states on their periphery to send people back on their behalf (or just keep them locked in). Migrants present on the territory without authorization face “hostile environment” policies aimed at depriving them of work or accommodation, which also expose them to crime and exploitation, policies put in place by politicians who also make speeches about “human trafficking” and “modern slavery”. And Theresa May herself is no stranger to policies that abruptly refuse students entry at the border or that separate partners or parents from children. In the UK, aliens, even those present from birth, can be deported to homelands they have never seen, without due process, if law enforcement deem them “foreign criminals”. And then we have France, among others, criminalizing people who offer assistance to irregular migrants and refugees, and countries like Hungary constructing physical barriers to keep them out. So nothing much new.
Or maybe something, which matters somewhat: Trump and his henchmen feel able to do openly and proudly what those other politicians have usually done hypocritically and shamefacedly. Not for him speeches such as the ones Theresa May (and Cameron before her) make about a “proud record” of helping those fleeing persecution, speeches made whilst they condemn the persecuted to risking death and then incarcerate them in detention centres. To be honest, I prefer the hypocrisy, because at least then there is some chance of holding them to account for the betrayal of the values they publicly profess. That Trump doesn’t care is terrifying.
(Protest and campaign, of course. But one thing you can also do is to volunteer to support refugees or to donate to a refugee charity. Bristol Refugee Rights is one such in the town where I live, but there are many others in Europe and North America.)