Here, Damon Culbert from Axis Solicitors highlights parallels between President Trump’s refugee policies and UK laws, whilst exploring the impact of Brexit
As internment camps fill up along the US borders, President Donald Trump continues to draw criticism for the treatment of migrants by officials at these facilities. Many Democratic representatives, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have condemned Trump’s zero-tolerance approach to migrants, particularly the family separation concerns which have resulted in many children being forcibly separated from their parents at the border.
It has been US policy to detain all migrants crossing the border illegally since May 2017 with no exception for asylum seekers or those arriving with children. However, children cannot be detained in federal criminal facilities so parents detained by the US government are separated from their children upon crossing the border. These children can only legally be held for a maximum of 20 days at family immigration detention where, if their parents cannot be released with them, they are transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Since the introduction of the zero-tolerance policy, it is estimated that more than 3,000 children have been separated from their parents. As the situation appears to be worsening along the borders, this number can only be expected to rise.
While many fear that Trump’s hardline stance against asylum seekers and refugees will have a knock-on effect across the world, it may instead simply reveal similarly disappointing practices operated by governments throughout the West. In the UK, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson aims to ramp up plans for a no-deal Brexit, there are concerns for the state of immigration should this go through.
How will Brexit affect refugee and asylum seekers?
The current EU policy is that refugees must apply for asylum in the first EU country they arrive in and all asylum seekers are subject to removal to this country should they make an application elsewhere. While the UK removes many asylum seekers to their EU country of entry right now, the EU may not be so willing to accept asylum seekers back from the UK.
This means that the UK will have to process every asylum application made in-country and will face much more difficulty returning refugees to places like France, Greece and Spain as they do now. Not only will this put a much heavier strain on those who process asylum applications but this will likely cause much more difficulty for those applying for asylum regardless of the validity of their claims.
While the focus of Brexit has been on ‘taking back the borders’ the loss of the EU regulations on processing asylum could see many more asylum seekers being processed here in the future.
Issues with the current UK immigration system
Though many political commentators would be quick to criticise the troubling reality of the American border and the irreparable damage to families likely to be happening, policies enacted by the UK Home Office have been improperly treating child migrants for much longer than the Trump administration.
The Dubs agreement, introduced in 2016, was sponsored by Kindertransport refugee Lord Dubs and required the UK government to accept unaccompanied child migrants from the Calais jungle. The original plan of 350 places the government intended to allocate was expanded to 480 after pressure from groups such as Help Refugees. However, only around half of these places were filled last year and just 20 of 3,000 places in the vulnerable child resettlement scheme were filled in 2018.
In addition, a court ruling early last year found that the government had acted unlawfully in its treatment of unaccompanied child migrants under the Dubs amendment, as many children were turned away with no explanation and no written decisions on their applications. Without a written decision, there was no way to appeal the decision, meaning children remained in the dangerous conditions across the channel despite countless places going spare.
The voices of British critics of Trump’s treatment of children are widespread yet under the surface, the British government continues to let down some of the most vulnerable migrants without incident.
The future of immigration in the UK
Recently, a leaked presentation from the Home Office revealed that the current post-Brexit immigration plan is to introduce digital IDs for all those applying for a visa to enter the UK. This intends to reduce the toll on border workers once European citizens are processed with all other entrants to the country.
There have been several arguments levelled against this government plan, with critics saying this system invites heavy surveillance of all migrants and goes against the overwhelming wishes of the British public to introduce UK ID cards.
However, one of the most concerning elements of the presentation was the inclusion of this statement: “not all nationalities will be treated the same. As now, we will differentiate on risk and/or trade deals”. While of course, immigration is often a key part of trade deal negotiations, the mention of differentiation on risk is troubling.
An immigration system which categorises countries by risk is reminiscent of the ‘Muslim ban’ introduced by Trump in July 2018 which restricts immigration from Syria, Iran, Yemen, Libya and Somalia. If the UK government continues on this path, risk would be determined by the government in place at the time and could result in seriously discriminatory practices which have been widely condemned by both Brits and Americans.
Not only would this affect any refugees escaping persecution but could also negatively affect applications for any kind of visa – not exactly the best picture of ‘global Britain’ championed by Brexit supporters.
While Trump’s troubling policies at the US borders continue to dominate headlines, the sinister underside of UK Home Office affects the lives and futures of countless vulnerable people on our own shores.
Axis Solicitors, Immigration and human rights