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Populism Watch: In the U.S. and EU, Battles For Human Rights at the Border

By / 6.22.2018

The entire transatlantic world is embroiled in heated debates over the treatment of immigrants and refugees. Trump’s decision to revoke his own family separation policy, after it sparked outrage across the country and drew scrutiny by members of both parties in Congress, put a spotlight on just how inhumane the treatment of migrants, including asylum-seekers, can be. In Europe, Italy and Malta refused to let a Doctors Without Borders boat carrying nearly 700 migrants to dock, prompting Spain to offer its ports. To the north, German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to seek stricter measures on migrants in Germany. Below, what to follow on immigration in the coming weeks.

United States: What impact will Congress have on the separation of families at the southern border?

Trump signed an executive order on June 20th to halt the separation of families at the southern border. The policy had resulted in children and babies taken from their parents and held in cage-like structures. Many prominent Republicans, including Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, and CNN National Security Analyst and previous NSA director Michael Hayden spoke out against the policy. Sen. Collins stated that the policy was “traumatizing to the children who are innocent victims, and it is contrary to our values in this country.” However, a recent Quinnipiac poll suggests the family separation policy is supported by 55 percent of her fellow Republicans.

As Trump’s executive order could be short-term, Congress is still moving forward on a number of bills. Senate Democrats introduced the Keep Families Together Act on June 7th. New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler introduced a bill in the House to limit separation at or near ports of entry on June 19th. The bills had 48 and 194 co-sponsors, respectively, as of June 21st. Republicans have put forth both a hardline approach by Virginia rep. Bob Goodlatte, and a so-called “compromise” bill that would end the separation policy and provide deportation protections and a path to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, while allocating $25 billion in funding for Trump’s border wall, limiting authorized and unauthorized immigration, and continuing to detain asylum-seekers. Goodlatte’s bill failed on the House floor June 21st, and voting on the “compromise” bill was delayed.

Europe: How will the EU hold up amid refusals to let refugee boats dock?

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat played a game of “not it” when a boat carrying 692 rescued migrants attempted to dock in their countries. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez allowed the migrants to dock at his ports on June 17th, ending the impasse. As the boat was first spotted by the Italian coast-guard, Italy was obligated to take in the migrants until their asylum requests would have been decided, per EU policy. The ability of EU supporters to hold the union together amid these divisions could impact its future stability, and the state of intra-European relations. European leaders plan to meet Sunday to discuss this and other migration challenges.

Amid threats to the coalition between German Prime Minister Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and right-of-center Christian Social Union, Merkel has agreed to seek stricter immigration measures ahead of an end-of-the-month EU summit. In response to the immigration challenges arising in Germany, Trump tweeted: “The people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition. Crime in Germany is way up. Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!” His statement is incorrect (crime in Germany at a 25 year low), ill-considered, and needlessly alienates a key European ally.

Given the continuing advance of populist, anti-immigrant sentiment across the Western democracies, we can expect fresh controversies to arise at national borders. Every country has a right to determine who it admits, and on what terms, and to enforce its immigration laws. But that right doesn’t relieve any country of the moral duty to treat immigrants – even unwanted ones – humanely and with some concern for their reasons for coming. That’s a lesson President Trump keeps learning, the hard way.