Saturday, March 13, 2021

Europe and the United States have an Islamophobia Problem, Not an Immigration Crisis

Guest blogger: Anisa Abeytia, Migration Studies Graduate Student, University of San Francisco

Immigration policies enacted in the United States (U.S.) by the Trump Administration emboldened dictators, encouraged racists and furthered an immigration regime that promoted the exclusion and mistreatment of Muslims in the U.S. and abroad, which was amplified by the signing of Executive Order No. 13769, Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, better known as the Muslim Ban.

The Trump Era typified the ability of American administrations to influence global policy agendas. Previous administrations, including Obama’s, represented an asylum regime out of step with human rights. The European Union's (E.U.) response to the 2015 refugee flow was a push to follow U.S. immigration and asylum laws. In a bid to bolster national security agendas Europe closed its borders, effectively ending asylum and enforcing their own Muslim ban, by leaving thousands of asylum seekers, mostly from Middle Eastern countries, stranded in squalid, makeshift camps in Frontline countries (Greece, Italy and Balkan nations). The 2015 migration flow overwhelmed national and supranational governments and created a rupture between practice and policy that allowed the power balance to shift to member states. The 2020 European Commission’s New Pack on Migration and Asylum moved the E.U. closer to emulating the U.S. by abandoning a commitment to international law and human rights. However, the similarities also include deeply rooted Islamophobia in Europe and a propensity for exclusionary and discriminatory laws in the U.S.

A Perceived Threat

In 2015 Europe received 1.3 million asylum seekers, and although perceived as a “crisis” by European countries, regionally the migrant population growth from 2005 to 2015 was considered slow. The E.U., member states and non-member states grappled with setting a response to the crisis in order to share the responsibility of resettling refugees from Frontline countries.

Additionally, Europe’s inability to deploy a coherent migration agenda was a veiled effort to prevent asylum seekers from primarily Muslim majority countries from entering Europe. Member states like Hungary and Poland used language couched in xenophobic rhetoric to justify their nations’ refusal to implement E.U. asylum policy. Austria, Denmark, France and the United Kingdom (U.K.) tactically deployed the argument that large numbers of Muslim refugees would demographically and socially alter their countries. In reality, Hungry, with 174,00 new asylum application in 2016, and the U.K. with 39,000 new asylum applications in 2016, were in no peril of being overrun by Muslim asylum seekers.

The Pew Forum reports the total Muslim population as 4.6% in 2016, with a projected population growth if modeled using high migration numbers, sets the European Muslim population at 14% by 2050. The U.S. places a similar disproportional emphasis on the number of Muslims within its borders, which in 2017 totaled 1%. In addition, the American fixation on Muslims as the top purveyors of domestic terror was finally debunked by the Department of Homeland Security who recently listed domestic, white supremacist groups as the deadliest terror groups in the U.S.

Weaponizing Historic Trauma

The political aftermath of 2015 resulted in the development of populist movements throughout Europe. Several E.U. member states sited sovereignty, national solidarity and security as justifications in closing their borders to asylum seekers in an attempt to redefine who are credible legal migrants and who are not. The European Commission’s New Pack on Migration and Asylum grants greater flexibility to member states to adopt or reject their obligation to resettle refugees, and by extension normalizes throughout Europe the opting out of international law regarding asylum per the Geneva Convention. Sweden and Norway retroactively increased resident standards leaving asylum seekers in legal limbo, while more recently, Denmark halted all asylum cases.

The U.S. border witnessed an expansion of the Obama Era’s family separation and detention policies under Trump, and a continued U.S. immigration system that criminalizes asylum seekers and immigrants. The increase in removals, detention and incarceration of non-citizens at the border and within the interior was abruptly increased by the Trump administration. The "Muslim Ban," is one such policy that emerged not only from current policy trends, but from a long history of exclusionary practices. The Indian Removal Act (1830), the Chinese Exclusionary Acts (1882), Jim Crow laws established in the 1890s, "Operation Wetback" (1953-1954), and Japanese American Internment (1942-1945) are the foundation the Trump administration built the Muslim ban on. In Europe, exclusionary and discriminatory practices span hundreds of years from the crusades, Spanish Reconquista, colonialism, and genocide.

The U.S. and Europe adopted a legal system intended to prevent immigration from the Global South. The harsh system serves as a deterrent and places migrants from formally colonized areas into precarious legal situations and are reminiscent of the punitive legal codes that prevented slaves from escaping or colonial subjects from rebelling. It is a way of weaponizing historic trauma shared across generations, as an approach that continues to shackle and terrorize vulnerable populations into submission, and to hold these populations in the south until their physical or mental labor is required in the north. It will take a collective rethinking and restructuring of the legal systems locally, nationally, and internationally to undo the asymmetrical balance of power the Global North established over the previous 500 years. Until then, it will continue to be reflected in every aspect of our societies and be amplified by the language of our legal systems.

Immigration Policy and Laws that Reflect Human Rights

Our current world system is not functioning. The massive numbers of people migrating within domestic and international borders is a testament to the system’s inadequacies, but in this there is an opportunity for establishing standards that move immigration laws closer to embracing human rights over faux national security prerogatives. Addressing the deep historic injustices experienced by populations in the Global South, as an underlying cause for internal displacement and an exodus north, will go far in adopting the spirit and values of human rights. The objective of democratic societies should be to live these values through instituting operational language and legal standards reflective of our shared humanity over continuing to inflict trauma on the world’s most vulnerable people. Europe and the U.S. are capable of leading an immigration and asylum policy shift away from Islamophobia and discrimination to incorporate the values and ethics of human rights.


| Permalink


Post a comment