Trump's Heartless Asylum Policy Upholds an American Tradition | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Trump’s Heartless Asylum Policy Upholds an American Tradition

President Trump's recent executive order to keep asylum seeking families together in incarceration is a cynical attempt to deflect negative press, argues Comment Writer Amy O'Neill

President Trump’s controversial foreign and border policy reached new levels of inhumanity this week. It was revealed that the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), set up by George Bush in 2003, have been enacting a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy which has seen asylum seekers detained at the US border, and babies and children separated from their parents and being held in wire cages in warehouses. This is a policy which White House advisers have described as ‘biblical’ and Fox News’ Laura Ingraham has called ‘summer camps’ for migrant children . It comes in a long line of nationalist and racist policies which have been the backbone of Trump’s presidency, from the Muslim ban to the repeal of DACA, a scheme which provides routes to citizenship for undocumented young people. Ostensibly in response to the public outcry over this policy, the president has signed an executive order which intends to keep families together.

The president, however, seems reluctant to take responsibility for this executive order, despite Republican reassurances that he was concerned about the wellbeing of the families affected. The child separation policy is not law but arose because of the fact that current border policy automatically imprisons those caught crossing the border illegally, placing adults in adult prisons and children in separate facilities. Since signing the executive order, Trump has made it clear that the border controls will remain strict. It seems then as though this family reunion is less of a shift in policy, and more of a concession to appease critics of the policy whilst continuing to have a hard-line stance on border control. Thus, families will be put in detention together, and immigration will remain criminalised.

This family reunion is less of a shift in policy, and more of a concession to appease critics

This policy is not Trump specific. Detaining whole families at the border is actually an Obama-era policy, and Trump’s deportation numbers actually match those of Obama’s first term. It follows in a long line of harsh immigration policies, not just from Trump, but by his predecessors. Post-war there was a mass deportation of Mexican workers who had moved to the US illegally to find work in the war effort, and the detention of immigrants and deportees began under Clinton, in 1996. Clinton's policies saw more Border Patrol agents placed at the Mexican border, police forces were given powers to enforce immigration laws, and policies to push immigrants into the desert to make it harder for them to cross at the major smuggling points of El Paso and San Diego saw an increase in the number of migrants who died trying to cross the border in the searing heat. US border policy has been harsh towards Mexican and South American migrants for some time.

It follows in a long line of harsh immigration policies, not just from Trump, but by his predecessors

The detention of families crossing the border causes further issues as it doesn’t just tackle illegal immigration, but complicates seeking asylum, a human right enshrined by the UN Declaration of Human Rights and an obligation that the US and all signatories should fulfil. Asylum seekers are detained at the border whilst their claims are processed, as Trump has expressed that he believes that asylum seekers will skip their court hearings if they are given an alternative to detention. Asylum seekers may not always have the opportunity to apply for refugee status outside the US, so many make dangerous journeys and cross the border without a visa to claim asylum. These policies essentially criminalise the claiming of asylum. Keeping asylum seekers in prison-like complexes is inhumane, but it doesn’t occur in the US alone.

The wider world shocked by the scenes from America must take this opportunity to critically examine their own policies toward refugees and immigration. Hostile attitudes are not the sole preserve of the current US government; the UK government too is guilty of the mass detention of asylum seekers. Around 30,000 people are held in detention every year, including 42 children in 2017 despite government claims to have abolished child detention in 2011. These centres have been the objectof mass scrutiny since it emerged that they do not provide adequate healthcare to pregnant women, and that residents are subject to racial, physical, and sexual abuse by staff.

Trump's border policy doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but is the result of current, global, and historical policies regarding border control. The executive order mustn’t overshadow the fact that migrant families will still be mistreated at the border. This is not a win, nor the end of America’s hostile immigration policies. Worldwide outrage at the cries of the children calling out for their parents must be seized upon and hostile attitudes to people seeking sanctuary or a better life must be challenged, both in America and the UK. On July 13th Theresa May will welcome Donald Trump to London, an opportunity for the country to show their feelings towards the president’s policies, and to begin to put an end to regressive immigration policy.



27th June 2018 at 1:00 pm

Images from

Voice of America