While the world deals with an ongoing and escalating refugee crisis, the United States has shut its doors on seven countries. State and local governments are seeking ways to challenge the Trump Administration’s orders. Maria Armoudian explores the historic, global, and legal context with experts Kevin Johnson, David Kyle, Phil Orchard, and Brad Blitz.
Kevin Johnson is the Dean of the School of Law at the University of California, Davis. He is an expert in immigration law and policy and is the co-author of Opening the Floodgates: Why America Needs to Rethink its Borders and Immigration Laws.
Phil Orchard is an Associate professor in International Relations at the University of Wollongong. He is an expert in forced migration and is the author of Protecting the Internally Displaced: Rhetoric and Reality.
Brad Blitz is a Professor of International Relations at Middlesex University, London. He is an expert in migration and refugee studies and is the co-author of Statelessness and Citizenship: A Comparative Study on the Benefits of Nationality.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length
Maria Armoudian: Let’s start with this nexus between refugees, migrants, and immigration. What are the common cross sections? Phil Orchard?
Phil Orchard: What we’re seeing is that we’ve got a lot of people who are refugees under what is called the 1951 Refugee Convention, which defines their status. But we also have a lot of people who have been displaced internally in places like Syria, they remain within their own country, but they’ve still been displaced. And we also have other people who are forced migrants who don’t fall within the refugee conventions definition, which is relatively restrictive.
MA: Do we have a sense of what percent is what? What percent are asylum seekers, refugees, and enforced migrants?
PO: In terms of the overall figures we’re looking at about sixty million. Over two-thirds of those are internally displaced persons. So the vast majority of current forced migrants remain within their own countries. In addition, we have refugees and we have refugees under two different organisations, which always complicates the math. The bulk of them are under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, but there is also a group who are Palestinians who are under the auspices of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. In addition, we know that there [are] a larger number of forced migrants who don’t fall within the refugee status and the [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] today frequently refers to them as “people of concern” – people who are facing potential persecution that don’t fall within the convention or situations of generalised violence that they had to flee from, but that don’t fit within that definition.
MA: Brad Blitz what would you add to that?
Brad Blitz: I think that for many states it’s often difficult to understand the differences between these categories of people. It’s important to recognize that everyone has human rights, and whether someone falls within the Refugee Convention or not, their rights need to be respected. And that is really a major challenge these days, especially when you raise the question around immigration, because often people may be considered unlawful or irregular migrants when under other circumstances their claims would be recognised and they might qualify as refugees.
MA: So what would be an example of that?
BB: To give you an example, I’m speaking to you now from Athens where I have been going around refugee centres, I’ve been speaking to refugee protection agencies, and we know that there is a large number of Afghans here. These are Afghans that are contained now in camps, centres, they have crossed the Aegean alongside Syrians and others, and the Greek government and other governments don’t necessarily know whether or not they would be considered refugees and entitled to refugee status, or whether or not they may be considered economic migrants. They say, “Well, it depends on which part of Afghanistan they’ve come from, what sort of conditions [they faced] when they left, [if] they [were] motivated on the grounds of persecution.” Now Afghanistan is an extremely unstable country and persecution is rife, and I think at other times one wouldn’t ask quite so many questions about these people’s status, but that is the situation we’re in now.
MA: Kevin Johnson?
Kevin Johnson: With the United States, I think that the largest group of migrants are immigrants, we admit about a million a year into the United States. We also have a refugee admissions program which involves overseas refugee admissions and that is usually in the one hundred thousand – two hundred and fifty thousand per year range. Then we have what are called asylum seekers, people who come here from other countries, and once they are here they apply for asylum because of feared persecution. We also have a fairly significant unauthorised immigrant population of probably in the neighbourhood of eleven million undocumented immigrants who live in the country. I do think it’s hard to draw lines between economic migrants and political refugees in certain circumstances, and historically the United States has had a difficult time separating out those two categories. We can think about Haitian persons coming to the United States in the eighties and nineties, whether they’re political refugees fleeing political violence or whether they’re economic migrants fleeing poverty. More recently you see the difficulty in discerning whether Central Americans are bonified refugees or whether they’re economic migrants, but we have a continuing problem fitting people in the different categories in the United States.
MA: David Kyle, that brings us to your work too, because you’ve talked about all the different factors, the economic systems, the global recession. How would you lay this out?
David Kyle: I think if we are looking at the intersection or the overlap across these groups, it’s even muddier than that and yet very concrete in that you could have the same group that is smuggling migrants across the border and, by definition, if you’re a persecuted group that means that your travel within a country is not exactly easy all the time, and yet we recognise that there is a need to leave, so in the same group that might be hiring smugglers, you might have what we may call economic migrants, but also in that group we might have trafficking victims that are being coerced or tricked – this is just one stop along the way, but they don’t know what they’re in for. But we also may have potential asylum seekers who are seeking things like freedom to pursue their lifestyle choices, or who they are, their religion, and a number of categories that are persecuted in their home country, and so it becomes both overlapping and very difficult to tell just by looking at them, and only after they go through the system can we tell where they might end up. They often check multiple boxes though.
MA: You’ve written about impossible choices that a lot of them face. First of all, what were the impossible choices that you wrote about at the time? Do you think they’ve changed?
DK: Unfortunately, I think that there are just fewer choices for many people – impossible or not. So we might want to reframe it as just kind of lacking choices. Often the impossible choices are sort of like being between a rock and a hard place. Either we leave here – something’s untenable, and even though [leaving is a] great risk and [often there are] mixed messages in terms of whether there will be a destination that we’ll be accepting or not – or we stay with the belief that nothing really will change and it might even get worse. And that is often the situation that many would-be migrants, not just refugees, find themselves in.
MA: Phil Orchard, let’s bring you back to talk about the trends that you’ve seen change. What shifts have we seen, and what has happened over the last two years?
PO: What we’ve seen is a steady growth in refugee numbers and internally displaced person numbers over the past few years. This is primarily being driven by Syria. And I think, just to echo David’s point, when you look at the situation in Syria, we’re looking at over five million refugees outside of the country, but we’re also looking at over six million internally displaced persons, as I mentioned earlier. And what we’re seeing in Syria is a pattern of repeated flight. So frequently people are fleeing within Syria one, two, or many times, and only then they’re actually choosing to leave the country. And further, once they’re outside of Syria itself and when they’re in the region, you’re looking at countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan particularly, where they’re not full signatories to the Refugee Convention and they’re also increasingly running into assistance problems. So the World Food Program [is] having to cut the rations once again that it was providing to refugees. Further, because they don’t have full rights within those situations because they are not protected under the Refugee Convention, a lot of them are moving onwards, and that is why we’ve seen the steady movement into Europe. The thing is, a lot of these refugees want to return home. I’m working on a paper with a colleague where we’ve been using survey data, looking at interviews from Syrian refugees, and primarily what they’re talking about is the violence they themselves or their families have experienced. And a lot of them are pointing to the idea that they’ll return on either one of two factors, one is a lot of them, particularly the highly educated refugees, only want to return if they see Assad removed or if they see some form of democracy introduced. The bulk of refugees don’t actually even want that, they don’t want to be hit by barrel bombs, they want to know that they can have safe lives in their country.
MA: I wonder if we could turn now to what we’re seeing in the policies coming out of the United States with [President] Trump’s executive orders. Brad Blitz, perhaps we should bring you in on this, you’ve done some writing on this. What is going to be the global effect of Donald Trump’s policies?
BB: I think the effects are in the first instance going to be felt by those that would otherwise qualify for refugee re-settlements and their families. And we should add that the executive order covers both refugees and it covers green card holders, so it’s an attack on both the immigration system and the refugee system. The other countries that are supporting refugees have already been alerted to the fact that if you take out tens of thousands of people from the U.S. resettlement program, this is going to place an additional burden, certainly a moral responsibility, on them. And that is what we heard from David Miliband, who is the director of the International Rescue Committee. [He said] that Europe and Western Europe in particular is going to be leaned on to take more refugees.
MA: Kevin Johnson, you’ve looked at the long history of U.S. policy on these issues. How different is Donald Trump’s policy from the previous administration? Is it drastically different?
KJ: In some ways President Trump’s policy isn’t that different from President Obama’s policies, in some ways they are radically different. For example, the similarities are this: in his first two executive orders on immigration President Trump is really trying to build on the crime-based removal system that was perfected in certain respects by President Obama. He is trying to expand those systems and increase the number of non-citizens removed from the country every year, expanding the scope of crimes that you can be arrested for and subjected to removal. President Obama set removal records in his first term and I think that President Trump is going to try to rival those records. So they are similar in some ways. They are very different when it comes to the [President Trump’s] executive order, where there is a suspension of the visas issued to non-citizens from seven different nations all predominantly populated by Muslims. I think that is something that President Obama has already criticised publicly. The other thing that is very different is President Trump suspended the Refugee Admissions Program for four months. I don’t recall that happening at least since the Refugee Act of 1980 was passed and we’ve had sort of an overseas refugee admissions program. In this way President Trump is very different from President Obama, so I do think that there [are] some similarities and differences. I do think the harshness of President Trump’s policies with respect to immigrants, temporary visitors, asylum seekers, and refugees is a good deal harsher in tone and impact than President Obama’s.
MA: We have a number of groups that are filing lawsuits to try to block this policy. We know that there have been some [American Civil Liberties Union] types of lawsuits already, we’ve got some judgments on that. But having looked at the legal decisions and debates how do you suspect these are going to pan out?
KJ: I think there is a wide variety of different issues. There are individual habeas corpus actions being brought and that is a very independent individual case. And you have nationwide class action, they are seeking injunctions of the entire policy, and there are different policies being challenged. The San Francisco lawsuit challenges a de-funding effort in one of the executive orders of sanctuary cities, the state of Washington [lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit], and other lawsuits are challenging the suspension of admissions from those seven nations that I mentioned. I don’t want to say it’s unheard of in American history, but it’s not something we see very often, and we haven’t seen in many years an entire admission bar to new admittees from certain countries. We’ve seen some special registration requirements for people from the Middle East, but we haven’t seen this kind of blanket denial of admission. So I think that particular issue is in one of the cases and it’s a challenge in the state of Washington lawsuit, but it’s also challenged the [American Civil Liberties Union] lawsuit, and it’s also challenged in a lawsuit brought on behalf of American Muslims. But those all could make their way to the United States Supreme Court and chart a new path for our constitutional law with respect to how we treat immigrants and refugees.
MA: David Kyle, I wonder if we could bring you in on this too in terms of the role of sanctuary cities and how this is panning out. How do you see this?
DK: I think of this in broader economic and historical terms, in that we have the challenge of soft power and hard reality, as I see it. It’s been like that since 1965 and the change of immigration laws at that time that one of the tenets [was that] we don’t discriminate by nationality prior to that, in the midst of the civil rights movement, in the midst of the Cold War, we felt that to project our soft power, winning the hearts and minds of people it was very necessary that we did away with those national quotas and systems. That really took off the table most of Latin America and Asia. We’re now… kind of putting the clock back, that is going to be an interesting challenge for the United States. I think, more importantly, with the hard reality of globalisation we’re about to find out how much of a reality that really was. When globalisation was framed in the nineties, as it really became a zeitgeist, it was framed as the natural order of things and that you couldn’t do anything about this reality. I think that building things like walls, apart from the change in the laws… is the symbol here. Are we going to go back to fortress America, literally build a wall, and really signal to the rest of the world that globalisation is dead, as well as re-negotiating not just the details of [the North American Free Trade Agreement] or other economic policies with Mexico, but our entire historical relationship with that country? I think we are about to find out, regardless of facts or alternative facts, what is the hard reality of globalisation? I think that is related to the sanctuary cities, and how people feel empowered and emboldened to spontaneously rise up and protect their cities and the people that live in them.
MA: Brad Blitz you’ve also looked at this historically, except for with regards to some of the European concerns from World War II and such. How would you characterise these parallels?
BB: I think there is a greater line of continuity, it is not just since World War II. I think many people have commented on the use of this executive order to target particular nationalities, and here we are talking about Syrians. It’s not just like what we saw in the 1930s where Jews were targeted under Nazi laws, there are a number of countries that have historically over time not just de-nationalised foreign-born citizens, but they have [also] stripped away the rights of residents in those countries. And in that sense I think that this executive order, or these executive orders, really position the United States alongside a really very dark period of history, because those orders were discriminatory. And when we think of the expulsions, for example the expulsions of ethnic Turks from Bulgaria or we think of even more recent expulsions of ethnic Haitians and the descendants of ethnic Haitians from the Dominican Republic, is this the sort of image that we want to see of the United States?
MA: I wonder if we could touch briefly on what the options are for people who are still trying to figure out where they can be, where they can call home, what their conditions are until they do figure out what their options are. Do you have a sense of that Brad Blitz?
BB: Right now the information that people are receiving is quite confusing. Certainly I have heard from a number of people in Europe that have greeted the so-called exemptions positively, they say, “Oh well, this shouldn’t affect dual-nationals from our country or those, for example, that hold British and, say, Iranian passports”. However, in practice, that is not the case. We see mass confusion at U.S. airports, we see mass confusion among those who are in transit, and I would argue that one needs to look at this really cautiously. There are no guarantees here. There are absolutely no guarantees. And unfortunately the foreign secretaries and the statements that have been put out by various European representatives to my mind really do not offer the sort of protection that people need, the sort of guarantees that people need when they’re in transit.
MA: Phil Orchard, what are people facing? What are they dealing with? What are their options?
PO: We know from the [executive] order itself, it appears to have directly affected already about twenty thousand refugees who were preparing for resettlement in the United States. It was announced… that about eight hundred refugees who were already in transit would be allowed in. Some of these very same people had already been stopped or even deported out of the U.S. in the couple of days after the executive order was introduced. So at least those eight hundred or so will be let in. But the broader twenty thousand are really stuck now, because they had gone through all the processes. And it’s important to note that President Trump argued that this order is all about extreme vetting, but the simple fact is that the U.S. system [already used] extreme vetting… These refugees who were being resettled had already been through a process that usually took eighteen months to two years. It had seen them provide tones of information to a range of government agencies and had seen them personally interviewed by Department of Homeland Security officers. This is the hardest single route to get into the United States, so what we’re seeing is twenty thousand refugees who have been through this process, who effectively were just waiting to resettle into the United States, who are now being blocked. We’ve also seen some stories where people have begun making the move and they’ve now had to be returned to their original refugee camps. They’ve given up everything because they expected to be resettled, they’d given up their tents, their possessions that they weren’t taking with them, and so on. So now they basically have to get those things back or get new tents, and they’re immediately at the start of the queue again, which is really problematic for them. So there are a lot of issues associated with the way the [executive] order is being played out.
MA: David Kyle?
DK: I think that before the dust settles in the next couple of weeks it’s going to be very hard to offer any concrete advice, at least on my part as I see it. I think that the routes that are already in place have to be honoured and respected for now, and I would assume that people should not change their plans in general based on what is happening in the United States just yet, but obviously lots of things are changing very quickly here and I don’t think anyone knows the answer right now.
MA: I think that brings us to the detention and deportation detention centres. Kevin Johnson, this has been something that you’ve been looking at. Do we have a sense about Trump’s plans for detention and deportation?
KJ: One of the executive orders, actually one of the first of two, focuses on detention. And immigrant detention is a tool of immigration enforcement. During the campaign he emphasised that he would try to eliminate what he referred to as “catch and release of immigrants” who are arrested and apprehended while they [are] awaiting their deportation… One of the executive orders, orders the building of more detention centres along the U.S.-Mexico border, and we are expecting to see an increase in detention. This is an increase that builds on detention records set by President Obama during his administration. So there is a great deal of concern, particularly among certain communities, about what this just might mean in terms of what the Administration is going to do. I think that President Obama increased the detention of unaccompanied minors and families along the U.S.-Mexico border region and the fear is that this is going to be built on and expanded, and part of the detention may well be done through private contractors, which some would say are less hospitable to non-citizens in custody. So there is a fear that there is going to be more detention, it’s going to be more miserable detention, and some people might just throw in the towel and agree to removal as opposed to fighting their asylum claims in immigration courts.
MA: In one of the pieces that I read… you were talking about the racial element of the deportation. I think it was you that called it Latino removal, so would it be fair now to call it Latino and Muslim removal?
KJ: I would say no, because in the United States the way the immigration system operates [is] closely related to the criminal justice system, and we have racial disparities particularly directed at Latinos in the criminal justice system of the United States. It leaves [out] the fact that about ninety-five percent of the people every year who are removed from the United States are Latino. Now there are some much smaller groups of Muslims who are affected and they are sort of the other group that [have] been targeted by President Trump. But the numbers are a lot smaller and so I do think that special procedures are being put in place, special targeting of these applicants are in place, but I don’t think the numbers are the same as it is with respect to immigrants from Mexico or El Salvador and Guatemala combined.
MA: Before we turn to solutions I wanted to also get a sense about Jeff Sessions and what we know about him that might inform where this may end up going. Kevin Johnson?
KJ: Jeff Sessions, if you look at his Senate web site, takes a very hard line on immigration and he champions protecting American workers by deporting immigrant workers, particularly undocumented immigrants. He is championed in the state of Alabama – it wasn’t a federal law, it was a state law, HB56, that was one of those state immigration enforcement laws that was designed to require state local law enforcement to inquire into the immigration status of people they had come into contact with. That law was struck down by the federal courts, most of it never went into impact. But it gives you a sense of the kind of immigration policies he would have. As attorney general, he would be the person ultimately in charge of the immigration courts in the United States. Those are the courts that allow for providing relief to immigrants or removing them from the country. It has been a court system that has been greatly overworked with the huge case-loads. There has [also] been a concern with the quality of the decisions made by those courts. So there is a great deal of concern among immigrants’ rights advocates that [there will be] a sort of set of policies that are tough on immigrants, that will be very enforcement oriented, and also that he’ll oversee an immigration court system that is focused on removal. Right now there is a draft floating around of another Trump executive order that would tighten up on temporary worker programs. This is something that Jeff Sessions has championed. Sessions has emphasised he thinks that the folks in Silicon Valley, [who] bring in temporary workers, are hurting American workers and he wants to end some of those temporary worker programs. So I think that is the short of it at least. There is also concern about whether the civil rights division that is housed the Department of Justice, which is led by the attorney general, will aggressively enforce civil rights actions including those involving immigrants under a Jeff Sessions attorney general tenure. So there is a great deal of concern.
MA: David Kyle would you agree?
DK: Yes I would agree. I think that firing the attorney general signals the kind of way forward here. I think that whatever Jeff Sessions’ history is on this, I think the wider vision that we have of the Trump Administration is that this is not just about the details of the policy, it’s about signalling domestically and internationally this is how we will treat immigrants and refugees.
MA: I wonder if we could turn to solutions in terms of how we should be dealing with this. Phil Orchard?
PO: One of the things we see with the global refugee problem today is that with refugees, [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] talks about [how] they have three durable solutions: Voluntary return or repatriation to their own country, local integration in a country that is hosting them, and refugee resettlement to a third country. And that is really where the U.S. has been critical for years. The U.S. accepts by far the most resettled refugees. Over the last couple of years they’ve accepted around seventy thousand refugees per year through the resettlement program. Under President Obama [in 2017] they had planned to accept under ten thousand, [but] with the executive order we see that number dropped to fifty thousand. And that assumes that fifty thousand might be reached due to these delays, due to the hundred and twenty-day wait that is been proposed. I suspect that we won’t see it get close to fifty thousand. So right away what this is doing is removing the vast bulk of one of those durable solutions, and this has been an area where the U.S. has had real leadership, because very few other programs are active resettlement programs. Canada and Australia accept in around twelve to thirteen thousand refugees, each state had special programs around Syrian and Iraqi refugees as well, but the bulk of other countries just don’t do very much. The United Kingdom for example commits to accept about twelve hundred and fifty refugees per year, though they accepted more than that in 2015. So if we’re thinking about solutions to this problem, one of the things we need to see is a system that works better to ensure that the bulk of these refugees are either having an option towards resettlement or, if they’re remaining within their host countries, that those host countries are receiving adequate support to maintain those refugees and ensure they have protection. Unfortunately right now that is not what is happening.
MA: Brad Blitz, he mentioned the United Kingdom. So I thought it’s a perfect cue for you.
BB: From the European perspective we have a policy on relocation, which is that it is similar to resettlement, but not quite. It’s supposed to be both faster and it’s operating also in the sense of a quid pro quo on the basis of the EU-Turkey deal. But we know that there are a number of European countries that have agreed to relocate refugees from Greece and Italy in particular and to rehouse them and give them opportunities as you might see with resettlement. But the numbers are still very small, the numbers of people being relocated don’t match current targets and the speed as well, [it is] just very, very unlikely that they’re going to come anywhere near to matching their targets. There have been repeated calls that the European Union needs to come together on this. We have a number of states that haven’t received any refugees and a number of states, especially in Central Europe that are quite hostile to this and hostile to the idea of collective responsibility sharing. So that is the first thing: we need to make good on existing promises. At the same time we have people who are in situations of detention. We have people in camps on the Greek Islands where they face extremely inhumane conditions, and I think they need to be sprung from those camps, they need to be put in altogether more humane conditions. And in that context I’d also say that Australia has a role in all of this because we know that Australia set up this process of offshoring, and we have of course seen images of people on Manus Island and Papua New Guinea where they have been contained and prevented from reaching the shores of Australia. And this is a policy that absolutely needs to be condemned and that is a policy that needs to be rejected altogether so that other states don’t follow this example.
MA: Kevin Johnson, we should bring you back in. Potential solutions to these issues, it seems to me that, particularly with the Americas, a lot of it is economic. How do you see it?
KJ: I agree with you that migration is largely economic, although there are other things that come into play including violence, political persecution, the rest, but at least in my estimation there are sort of two things that I would emphasise. It does seem that we need to in at least North America think about how we can work together in terms of migration, refugee issues, and to work together to make it an efficient and effective system and a system that we can all honour and live with. Unfortunately at this point I am not even sure if the presidents of Mexico and the United States are on speaking terms right now. They had a meeting scheduled that got cancelled after the initial executive order on expanding the U.S.-Mexico border wall. So unfortunately we seem to be moving in the wrong direction, but in the long run it seems important that we have to think about how we can work together as a group of nations to deal with migration flows. In the short term in the United States I do you think that it makes perfect sense for political activity to be organised and [focused] on some of these issues. I think what happened in the United States [in the days after the executive order was signed] was largely a grassroots issue or grassroots movement where people were just so upset by what they were seeing our government do that they participated in all kinds of protests and actually a lot of helping of people at airports across the country, lawyers and others helping people who were caught up in a very uncertain web at this point. I think that if we want positive change in this country we’re going to have to continue to push forward on immigration. It has been that way for a long time, it is going to continue to be that way in the future. And also in the long term I think we have to focus on regional solutions and how we approach these issues.
DK: Yes, I agree. I think that as long as the political leaders can’t talk or develop a rapport then these other questions of policy and implementation are really second order. It’s the more managerial framing of the problem that is already very, very difficult, but under these circumstances it’s hard to see how we even get to that point again. That said, even though it seems like a lifetime ago we might remember, it’s largely forgotten now that right before 9/11, on September 6, 2001 Vicente Fox, the President of Mexico, was here in the United States visiting President George W Bush because they were floating the idea that as part of [the North American Free Trade Agreement] they would eventually open the border with Mexico and then harden the border with Guatemala. Of course 9/11 happened just a few days later and that was completely forgotten. However, it just shows you how close we were under a Republican administration, I might add, and that while that may or may not give us cause to hope, it just shows you how quickly things can change in either direction.
MA: Final thoughts Phil Orchard?
PO: It is very troubling what is happened [in early 2017] and ideally what we will see through court action is some changes happen to the executive order, but I think we also need to see other states step up and do more to take in these refugees and to help them.
MA: Brad Blitz?
BB: I would certainly agree with the comments from our colleagues. But one thing I would like to call attention to is the role of effective leadership that we’ve seen from Canada. In fact the media behaving in a way which is truly countercultural when one looks at all the really nasty and abusive statements that have come out from politicians around the world, here we have a leader, Justin Trudeau, who has said, “Refugees are welcome… and I’m going to make good on the promises that you’ve heard, we’re going to increase numbers and we are going to set a tone here which is truly antithetical to what we’re hearing just south of the border.”
MA: Kevin Johnson?
KJ: I don’t think that the Trump people have much of a set of contacts with Canada, we certainly don’t seem to be following their policies very much and it’s quite frustrating that we often go out on our own when it comes to migration issues. I think that is deeply, deeply unfortunate. I do think that it’s important to remember that, at least in this country, and I think worldwide in certain respects, these movements, these tensions, these views of immigrants [have] gone up and down over time, and, as David was mentioning, we could see change, and I think in the longer [term] we will. However, some of what we’re seeing now [with] the detention of Central Americans, asylum applicants right back the nineteen eighties when I first got involved in immigration and studying asylum issues, and things like that, it is a frustrating set of circumstances we see, but the politics can change on a dime.
MA: David Kyle?
DK: I think the very thing that is so challenging and difficult about the immigration phenomena is that it’s politicised and yet that is also potentially a strength right now, which shows you that politicians, global leaders, industry leaders do respond to political movements. I believe that we are going to see a backlash in all kinds of areas, some organic, some very organised. And I think that the American population has become so complacent about migrants and in a very complex phenomena, but in a way this does clear the underbrush and really starkly highlights the issues at hand, the humanitarian issues, the issues of the social and political and cultural relationships that we quite often have with migrants and refugees before they come over, and there are the issues of what this means to all of our freedoms to move around the planet, not to mention the legal and other national backlashes against American mobility over time. I think that that political dimension to migration is also perhaps a cause for hope, that it does have an impact and things can change for the better.
This interview was originally aired on the Scholars’ Circle. To access our archive of episodes and download this interview click here.