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Trump’s Adverse Foreign Policy on Immigration and the Way Forward

Immigration, an ever-present and polarizing issue in the United States, became a hot topic in the news during the first months of the Trump presidency. In the past decades, the focus on immigration turned dramatically to border control after the attacks on September 11, 2001. President Trump has furthered this concern by injecting a touch of nationalism and racism into the national debate.

Trump’s first decision to put a travel ban on majority Muslim nations became the spark that ignited national protests. And while the national protests have died down, it becomes more relevant than ever to illustrate the extent of the damage this administration has caused both for domestic and international law. As a nation that the world used to look for guidance on issues such as these, Trump has taken us back decades on the human rights movement. The repercussions are dangerous and great in scope, going from violating both domestic and international law to driving a relationship of convenience and subordination with Mexico- leading the latter to pursue mechanisms that violate international laws on asylum as well to conform to U.S. demands.

The U.S. Violates Domestic and International Law

Nationwide protests erupted when Trump issued an executive order on border security and interior enforcement on January 25, 2017. The order aimed at prosecuting for illegal entry, arbitrary and indefinite detention, and separating families at the border. It also permits asylum officers to return people back to their countries without registering and determining their asylum status first. This arbitrary conduct violates international and U.S. law the government expressly adopted and agreed to uphold. The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, under article 31, holds that asylum seekers cannot be penalized for entering a country illegally. Likewise, title 8 of the U.S. Code states that all non-citizens have a right to arrive in the U.S. to apply for asylum. In case a refugee is denied asylum after a decision has been reached in accordance with due process of law, he or she cannot be returned to the country where their lives or freedom could be threatened. This is guaranteed under article 32 of the Refugee Convention and under the U.S. Code.

In July of 2019, the Trump administration took matters further by issuing the so-called “Asylum Ban 2.0,” which makes all individuals who enter, attempt to enter or arrive at the U.S. across the southern border ineligible for asylum if they have transited through other countries outside of their own and have not applied for protection in those countries. This new rule clearly is in violation of previous laws passed by Congress protecting the rights of all people who arrive to the United States, whether at or between ports of entry, to seek asylum.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Asylum Ban 2.0, setting aside decisions from judges in California who had blocked the president’s new rule from taking effect. While legal experts have said that there is no way that an executive order could change the asylum process, this win for Trump represents a significant shift in U.S. legal standards to protect the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers. Thus, setting a damaging precedent which consequences we are yet to see and could last years to come.

The U.S. Pressures Mexico for Its Own Interests

The Trump administration, in its pursuit of limiting the number of immigrants that enter the southern U.S. border, has not only violated international law but has driven a foreign policy of subordination toward Mexico. Today, most immigrants crossing the border illegally are Central Americans. Reports show that over 400,000 migrants cross Mexico’s southern border each year. Many flee poverty, government instability, and gang violence in Central America and aim to cross Mexico to reach the United States. Mexico has become a sending country, a country of transit, and a receiving country for migrants.

In this instance, the United States has overused its political power. According to some critics, the Mexican government is depriving migrants of their rights under the 1951 Refugee Convention after receiving increased pressure from the United States to accept more asylum applicants or deport them before they reach the U.S. border. Maureen Meyer, the director of Mexico and migrant research at the Washington Office on Latin America, said that “Mexico has been facing increased pressure by the United States to accept more asylum applicants.” Consequently, Mexico has engaged in various programs and policies to address these pressures that have violated international law as much as the United States.

In 2013, Mexico began offering migrants “humanitarian visas,” a document available to foreigners who are victims of natural disasters or violence. The visas allow the victim to remain in Mexico for one year and travel freely but these visas “may not be as humanitarian as they appear,” because they do not offer the protections internationally awarded to refugees. The visa recipients are not allowed to work, study, or receive benefits. Rights which are mandatory under international law. Furthermore, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) works with Mexican officials to integrate asylum-seekers into Mexican society by providing them with financial support, legal aid, and safe housing. But those who have already applied and received humanitarian visas do not qualify for this program.

Levi Vonk, a Berkley doctoral student specializing in the violence migrants face when crossing the southern U.S. border, stated that “this is a strategically developed plan from the Mexican government to claim they are ethically addressing a migration crisis while actually shirking the responsibilities of the 1951 Refugee Convention.” Thus, not having to carry the economic burden that comes from granting asylum under the mentioned Convention, and U.S. imposed tariffs on all Mexican goods.

The Way Forward: A Truly Bilateral Comprehensive Approach

Finally, it has become clear that the United States’ realist and imperialistic approach to immigration is not the solution. In doing so it has violated countless laws and put hundreds of lives at risk. The way forward is clear. The United States must develop a foreign policy founded on principles of collaboration with Mexico to find sustainable solutions that are beneficial to both countries and to the human beings whose rights are being violated. Collaborative efforts can lead to continued progress in Mexico’s economy which is in the United States’ interest because that would prevent more immigration north.

However, this cooperation will have to be truly bilateral and not driven by a United States that “knows-best.” The Southern Border Plan developed by Mexico is supposed to be a collaborative effort with the United States. But in reality, it has been largely driven with the equipment, funding, and direction of the U.S. The result has been one of the increased apprehensions, deportations, and immigrants getting killed.