Here, Ana González, Partner at Wilson, discusses her work with Central Americans applying for asylum whilst navigating the increasingly hostile attitude toward them, known as The Trump effect
Immigration policy has an obvious and direct effect on those targeted by the legislation, but as a lawyer who works with those affected, I see first-hand how the accompanying rhetoric can be arguably more pervasive and damaging.
Fighting cases for Central Americans applying for asylum in the UK, the reports that White House officials discussed a zero-cap refugee admission policy in early July are especially concerning. Not only will this add further hardship to the migrants, but such a drastic move would have a noticeable impact on countries such as the UK that will inevitably receive an influx of people diverted from the US.
This has the potential to generate further social and political unrest in countries that have already been divided by populism and will be compounded by the normalisation of racist attitudes and language that has been endorsed and proliferated by those who seek to rule.
The effect of this constant drip of everyday racism from the mouths of the politically powerful was clearly demonstrated in a UK court this week when a lawyer used Boris Johnson’s past derogatory remarks about black people as a defence for Paul Bussetti, who filmed the burning of an effigy of Grenfell Tower and its occupants in November 2018.
Following Johnson’s selection as prime minister, the US president dubbed him “Britain Trump” at a rally in Washington, but going by past record, Boris will not be anywhere near as awful. Historically, he has not been anti-immigration, and as mayor of London he was in favour of naturalising certain people who are here unlawfully, referring to the kinds of people who work unseen in the service industry. London would collapse without these people, so Johnson’s approach was very pragmatic – it’s not because he was particularly sympathetic to foreigners. Also, during one of the PM debates he refused to answer a question about immigration, which I thought was significant. So he understands the value of what foreigners bring to the table, but how he will act as prime minister is still an unknown.
Referring to Johnson’s many past inflammatory statements, including the characterisation of Commonwealth citizens as “flag-waving piccaninnies, with watermelon smiles”, Mark Summers QC told Westminster Magistrates’ Court: “We say that none of these things cross the high threshold of hate speech but all of them have emanated from the mouth of the man who is now our prime minister. And he has not been prosecuted for any of them.”
The ramifications of the special relationship between Johnson and Trump are yet to be felt, but if the US, which has already cut its refugee intake and cracked down on asylum claims, dramatically reduces admissions, the UK will receive more people from the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras), as this policy is a reaction to the caravans of migrants fleeing those countries.
The United States is home to the largest immigrant population in the world, with figures for 2017 from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs putting the number at 47 million as of 2015. South or East Asia was the single largest source region (26.9%), followed by Mexico (26.8%), with Central America accounting for 7.9%, or 3,384,629 people, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, citing 2015 statistics from the Migration Policy Institute.
‘refugee’ and ‘asylum seeker’ have become dirty words
The Northern Triangle, which is beset by endemic government corruption and horrific levels of gang violence, especially against women, is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world, precipitating what the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called a humanitarian crisis.
I am currently helping people claiming asylum here from El Salvador and Nicaragua who have escaped unthinkable situations, which are very winnable cases as the facts are undisputable.
Unfortunately, although these cases may be successful in the courts, it is a sad reality that ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum seeker’ have become dirty words in the vernacular of most people in the West due to the prevalence of populist and far-right discourse, meaning the new societies these people are entering are increasingly divided and hostile.
now that they are here, they tell me the most extraordinary things about how they have been treated
My clients have applied for asylum for extremely distressing reasons, but they were reticent of doing so because of the perception of refugees here, which is an appalling state of affairs, and now that they are here, they tell me the most extraordinary things about how they have been treated, to the point where they are cautious about telling anyone they meet they are a refugee.
This is a direct result of the current wave of right-wing populism that taps into an ingrained racism in many people, who felt they had been beaten into submission during the last two decades and had to self-censor out of fear of being branded ‘un-PC’. But now racism has become fashionable again. This is not isolated to Trump, and as history repeats itself, foreigners are being scapegoated, specifically foreigners who are not white.
The Trump administration’s latest signalling about immigration policy is rooted in jingoistic racism as his re-election campaign doubles down on the key successes of his win in 2016.
immigration policy is rooted in jingoistic racism
If he is re-elected, as I believe he will be, the result will be more ostensibly legitimate global leaders and opportunistic aspiring politicians emulating the successes of his style and, more worryingly, his policies.
We live in dire times, and things are going to get much worse, both for the vulnerable people who will bear the brunt of such populist policies and the global community that will share the burden.
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