Could backlash over Charlottesville damage Trump’s immigration reform plans?

By Christina Lee

Last week US president Donald Trump endorsed a proposal for a new immigration policy, known as the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act, or RAISE Act, co-sponsored by Republican Senators David Perdue and Tom Cotton. The plan would dramatically alter the US immigration system by reducing family reunification in favor of a points system that would allocate visas to people based on qualifications such as language and skills. It would additionally abolish the diversity visa program, set a modest limit on accepted refugees, and remove residency and employment rights for parents of US citizens. The entire text of the bill can be read here.

Last week the White House seemed geared up for a fight over the topic, sending out combative adviser Stephen Miller to convince the press (video here). But events over the weekend completely stole the spotlight from even this incredibly controversial topic.

On Saturday, a rally of white supremacists erupted in chaos and violence in the collegiate town of Charlottesville, Virginia. A protest organized by a coalition of right wing groups under the banner ‘Unite the Right‘ met to demonstrate the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, and ended in tragedy when a participant mowed into a group of counter-protesters, killing one.

There has been massive national and international outcry against the incident as well as Trump’s initial response, which many claimed did not explicitly disavow white supremacist groups as he condemned violence “on many sides”. He made an additional statement on Monday which then did so, calling white supremacist groups “repugnant to all that we hold dear as Americans”. Nevertheless, the incident and Trump’s response has prompted a massive surge of interest in white supremacist/ white nativist groups- some of whom have ties to members of the Trump administration. With concern and interest about such groups at an all-time high, will the main architects of Trump’s immigration policy be discredited by these ties? Let’s take a closer look.

Trump Adviser Stephen Miller tied to Unite the Right Speaker Richard Spencer

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Image via Gage Skidmore on Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0) http://bit.ly/2fRfWWN

Perhaps the most direct line between Saturday’s rally and the White House goes through Stephen Miller, presidential adviser and speechwriter, one of the chief architects and proponents of the Muslim Ban, and the individual tasked last week with introducing and defending Trump’s immigration reform package to the media.

One of the headliners of the Unite the Right rally was open white supremacist Richard Spencer, founder of National Policy Institute, a white nationalist/ Identitarian think tank based in Virginia. Spencer formerly attended Duke University with Stephen Miller and worked together with him in the Duke Conservative Union to host far-right anti-immigrant activist Peter Brimelow (founder of the nativist website VDARE, where Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler is a frequent commentator) on campus for a debate on immigration, according to two former members of the Union.

In an interview with Mother Jones, Spencer confirmed the two knew each other and shared views on multiculturalism and immigration.

“It’s funny no one’s picked up on the Stephen Miller connection,” Spencer says. “I knew him very well when I was at Duke. But I am kind of glad no one’s talked about this because I don’t want to harm Trump.”

Miller denied the connection to Mother Jones, but did not answer questions about his activities at Duke.

Trump Adviser Kris Kobach Has Ties to White Nationalist Groups and European Anti-Immigrant Extremists

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Image via Andrew Rosenthal on Flickr, (CC by NC-2.0) http://bit.ly/2wgwEWA

Kris Kobach is the current Kansas Secretary of State, a White House adviser, and President Trump’s appointee to a newly established Commission on Election Integrity. He is also a long-standing advocate of radical immigration reform who was advising on immigration policy from the earliest days of the Trump administration.

As the above tweeted photo shows, and Kobach later confirmed as noted by the Kansas City Star, in 2015 he was among speakers at an event of The Social Contract Press, a white nationalist publishing house that hosts conferences and publishes a quarterly journal highlighting anti-immigrant and anti-“globalist” thought. Previous speakers at TSCP events include Peter Brimelow of VDARE (who was person Spencer and Miller invited to speak at Duke, as noted above), and Jared Taylor, the editor of white supremacist website American Renaissance, author of the book White Identity and one of Spencer’s cited major influencers.

Kobach has also branched out beyond the US to forge connections to extremists from Europe.  In March, Kobach hosted Austrian anti-Muslim activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff in Kansas, a meeting Sabaditsch-Wolff documented meticulously for anti-Muslim website Gates of Vienna. She expressed numerous outlandish opinions to Kobach, including her suspicion that George Soros is funding the travel of people seeking asylum through Europe with 500 euros bills, that “Sweden is the European country that is closest to collapse”, and that women in Europe no longer feel safe in public.

Trump Assistant Sebastian Gorka tied to Hungarian Nazi Group

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Image via 7th Army Training Command on Flickr, (CC by 2.0) http://bit.ly/2uXhGk6

Dr. Sebastian Gorka works in an advisory role at the White House and is often seen making the rounds on morning press shows and talk radio to argue forcefully for Trump’s policies. Gorka was born in the UK to parents who fled as political refugees from Hungary following 1956 Rebellion. He has nevertheless been a forceful advocate against allowing refugees like his parents to come to the US, telling Sean Hannity, “We help people when we can help them,” he said. “But that is not a contract for national suicide.” As a spokeman, he has also represented the White House on immigration issues to defend the Muslim Ban and now the RAISE Act, which would also reduce numbers of people allowed to come to the US as refugees.

However, as an active member of Hungarian politics, Gorka was evidently tied to several extreme-right and anti-Semitic groups, including far-right Jobbik. But, as the Forward revealed, he is also allegedly a formal member of a nationalist group that helped deport thousands of Jews from Hungary during World War II and is banned from immigration to the US because of its Nazi ties, the Vitézi Rend.  A high-ranking member of the organization confirmed his sworn membership to The Forward.

“Of course he was sworn in,” Pintér said, in a phone interview. “I met with him in Sopron [a city near Hungary’s border with Austria]. His father introduced him.”

The government of Viktor Orbán has made Hungary a welcoming place for individuals with extremist anti-immigrant and anti-Semitics views like Jobbik, but also for American white nationalists. Richard Spencer and another scheduled speaker at the Unite the Right Tally, Daniel Friberg, met up in Budapest in 2014 for a NPI conference (where Spencer ironically ran into problems with the Hungarian police for potential immigration violations, according to Hungarian news site Index.)

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The sight of swastikas at the Unite the Right rally, as well as chants of “blood and soil” and “Jews won’t replace us” provokes unnerving historical precedent with nazi movements like the one  Gorka allegedly belongs to. The white nationalists and neo-nazis at Saturday’s events no doubt represent a small group of fringe Americans- but that makes the numerous ties to Trump’s administration, and especially the architects and defenders of his immigration policy, even more difficult to overlook.

 


Sources and Further Reading
The RAISE Act, US Congress, August 2017
Stephen Miller addresses the press about the RAISE Act, Youtube (video), Aug. 2017
Trump condemns Charlottesville violence but doesn’t single out white nationalists, Washington Post, Aug. 12, 2017 (with video)
Trump denounces KKK, neo-Nazis as ‘repugnant’ as he seeks to quell criticism of his response to Charlottesville, Washington Post, Aug. 14, 2017 (with video)
Stephen Miller Defends President Trump’s Travel Ban, Fox News, Jan. 2017 (video)
Immigration ban architect Stephen Miller foreshadowed his policy on journey from Duke to the West Wing, Duke Chronicle, Jan. 2017.
Meet the White Nationalist Trying To Ride The Trump Train to Lasting Power, Mother Jones, Oct. 2016
Kris Kobach rejects criticism for speaking at a ‘white nationalist’ conference, Kansas City Star, Nov. 2015
World gets glimpse of deportation plan Kris Kobach took to meeting with Trump, LA Times, Nov. 2016
Kobach Email Confirms Aim of Voter Fraud Commission is to Gut Vital Voting Rights Law, Slate, July 2017
Introducing Kansas to the Great European Migration Crises, Gates of Vienna, March 2017
Sebastian Gorka (biography), Institute of World Politics
Dr. Sebastian Gorka: ‘U.S. Is a Judeo-Christian Nation But That’s not a Contract for National Suicide!’ Breitbart, Nov. 2016 (with video)
EXCLUSIVE: Senior Trump Aide Forged Key Ties To Anti-Semitic Groups In Hungary, The Forward, Feb. 2017
EXCLUSIVE: Nazi-Allied Group Claims Top Trump Aide Sebastian Gorka As Sworn Member, The Forward, March 2017.
Ineligibility based on Human Rights Violation, State Department
The alien police took custody of the Organizer of the Race Protection Conference, Index.hu, April 2014.
Header Image via Anthony Crider on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2xaBhOu (CC by 2.0)
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Sympathy for the Visegrad Group? A look at the V4’s migration proposals

In European migration politics, the governments of the so-called “Visegrad Group” or V4 – Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia– have set themselves apart with their consistently strong stance against EU refugee policy over the past few years. The four strongly oppose a quota distribution system collectively and take a harsh tone against both Brussels’ migration policy and people seeking asylum in their national media. (For an example, read “Will Fear of Refugees Become the Status Quo in Czech Politics?”). As the European Commission takes steps to potentially punish three of the countries for refusing to follow a specific EU resettlement policy, the countries show no sign of backing down. But is there room for compromise?

Drawing a line in the sand

The European Commission announced it was taking the first step in infringement proceedings against three of the four Visegrad states –Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic – for breaching Council decisions regarding relocation of people seeking international protection or asylum from Greece and Italy. Slovakia, who has legally challenged the relocation order and only accepts candidates based on strict preferences, has faced criticism but no threats of infringement (yet). Although Visegrad-adjacent Austria has also refused to accept any transfers of people, they are also off the hook in this case because they promised to accept 50 people in May 2017, according to an EC report on resettlements.

The countries implicated have all separately reaffirmed their intention to defy any resettlement plan, despite the Commission’s warning of infringement. Warsaw quickly issued a statement in response the announcement, calling the Commission’s actions premature in light of pending cases with Slovakia and Hungary at the ECJ, stating, “Poland stands ready to plead its case before the Court of Justice.” Just last week, presidential frontrunner of the ANO 2011 party and current deputy Prime Minister Andrej Babiš told the Czech website Parlamentní listy: “As I said, I do not want a single refugee in the Czech Republic, not even temporarily.” And Viktor Orbán, Hungarian Prime Minister, connected his fight against resettling refugees to his ongoing efforts to stifle George Soros, telling students at a Hungarian cultural festival in Romania that Soros has been “using his money, people and institutions to transport migrants into Europe.” In the same speech, he said that Hungary would continue to endeavor to offer a “calm, Christian life” to its inhabitants and  “will not take in people who raise the concern in us that they will change our cultural identity.”

These public statements from Visegrad leadership are clear about what (or rather, who) they don’t want. But what do they offer as an alternative for handling migration on the European level?

What does Visegrad Want?

On July 19th, the Visegrad Group met in Budapest and issued a Joint Statement on Migration that outlined their position- not just what they stand opposed to, but what they offer as an alternative. In it, they reaffirm their commitment to a joint “consensus-based European solution” to dealing with migration. For the V4, the essential thing is to divide people seeking asylum from what they call “economic migrants”, a determination that they maintain should be made outside of EU territory but with the assistance of member states. Further, they write that any relocation schemes must be strictly voluntary, and the overall focus should be on preventing people from leaving their countries and entering Europe in the first place. The entire letter can be read here.

The tone of the letter is significantly subdued in comparison to what leading politicians have been telling their populations regarding asylum and Brussels, but that’s no reason to discard it. Let’s take a look at some of the key proposals and whether they are practical and further, whether they point to any areas that could lead to a compromise between the Visegrad Group and Commission.

1. Make asylum determinations outside of Europe

We believe that the precondition of any efficient strategy related to mixed migratory flows is to distinguish between genuine asylum seekers and economic migrants. The necessary assessments have to be completed outside the territory of the EU in administrative centres protected and supplied with the assistance and contribution of the EU and its Member States.

In order to deal with asylum “at the roots”, as they write, it is necessary to move the asylum process outside of EU territory. This proposal is a familiar one, as can be seen by our discussion of former French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s policy platform. There are several problems with this idea, but also an area of possible compromise.

One problem is the assumption inherent in this proposal that people migrating to Europe belong to either the category of asylum seekers or “economic migrants.” This division is confusing and artificial. In Europe, as all over the rest of the world, people migrate for a variety of reasons outside of seeking asylum. They may be seeking better opportunities and jobs, but they also might be hoping to reunite with a family member or loved one, access educational opportunities, gain medical treatment, or for any number of other reasons. They may not be able to access protection under the refugee convention, for instance, because authorities believe there are other safe areas to flee within their home country, but this doesn’t make their motives necessarily economic in nature. And importantly, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are not entitled to other forms of protection.

A second, stickier issue is the notion of completing assessments of people’s asylum claims outside EU territory. Nothing in EU or international law forbids the possibility of a state granting people asylum from a distance outside that state’s borders. In fact, countries do this all the time, often aided by government officials or NGOs within a country to identify people that can be transferred to another country to get protection.

The problem comes when this is posed as the only way of granting asylum. “Sequencing is crucial,” write the Visegrad Group, but legally, they have bound themselves to also accept refugees who apply from within their territory (as have all other European countries). The 1951 Refugee Convention and its follow up the 1967 Protocol both define refugees as someone who:

“owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

The “outside their country” aspect is crucial. If countries were only willing to offer asylum to people who applied without leaving their own countries, then people would have to remain in a country where they are at risk while waiting for an answer- possibly facing death or torture. All V4 countries have signed both the 1951 Convention and its 1967 protocol (see UNHCR’s list of signatories for more details.) This binds them to accepting applications of asylum on their own territory, and to not “refouling” people (sending them back to places where they face persecution.) This definition of asylum as allowing people to leave their national borders to safety is also included within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” (The “seek” part is also important: it means you are entitled to ask for asylum, even if you don’t ultimately receive it.)

It should be clear that people needn’t remain in their own countries to seek asylum, and that the members of the Visegrad Group are obligated to process asylum claims of people who make it to their territory and ask for protection, just as the rest of Europe is. But so long as this is guaranteed, a compromise could see more asylum decisions being reached in sending countries, such as through embassies or special centers for that purpose, without excluding the right to seek asylum in the traditional way as well. This could indeed prevent people who have no viable claim for asylum from making perilous journeys while expediting the process for people who do have viable claims.

However, a major concern would be to ensure that assessments carried out abroad comply with legal standards and aren’t a way of moving the asylum process out of sight and out of mind.

2. Secure external EU borders

We need to be able to fully protect the external borders of the European Union. At the same time, we need to remove internal border controls. We need to make sure that no one can avoid being properly identified and registered before entering the territory of the EU.

This proposal also offers plenty of room for agreement with the rest of Europe. The idea of strengthening external border controls while providing free movement within the EU is an aspiration that is nearly universally shared. This can be seen by the dramatic budget and staffing increase over the last years for the European border agency Frontex, headed out of Warsaw, and increasing funds for Italy to manage asylum assessments (and deportations.)

However, the implication that everyone can be “properly identified” before entering the EU is problematic for a few reasons. First, as discussed above, its a right under international and European law to seek asylum in other countries. This right is not limited to those who are “properly identified.” In other words, providing ID is not a prerequisite to seeking asylum, and attempting to stop people from entering because they cannot provide ID might violate international law.

Throughout the asylum application process people are grilled on their stories and asked to provide as much evidence as possible to back up their claims of persecution and country origin. But it must be recognized that, when fleeing war or persecution, it is sometimes not possible to bring full documentation. For others, these important papers might be lost in transit. Still others might be stateless, in which case they may never have had proper identification documents to begin with. Any of these circumstances do not take away a person’s right to ask for protection.

3. Use aid to discourage “pull factors” and prevent people from leaving

We need a sustainable European solution with the long-term objective of a proactive involvement of the EU and its Member States in the most affected Third Countries of origin and transit including improving their living conditions.

The idea of preventing migration through increasing development aid is an unproven concept that has nevertheless been pushed by people as diverse as Jean Luc Melenchon in France and Mark Rutte in the Netherlands. The problem with the idea is that the EU already spend billions in development aid, but this aid may not reach people most vulnerable to persecution and war. Not to mention the fact that it does not address pull factors such as family reunification. Nevertheless, if aid is indeed aimed at improving living conditions and not at preventing people from leaving their country (as everyone is entitled to) then it is hard to see major downsides to ramping it up.

At the same time, there would appear to be room for improvement in this area from the states proposing the aid increase. The EU has targets for development aid to lower income countries known as “Official Development Assistance” (ODAs). In the latest Commission report on the subject (found here) it was noted that although progress has been made, the EU has not reached its collective goal of setting aside .7% of Gross National Income (GNI) for development aid.

The Visegrad states fall well below this goal, as well as below the less ambitious target set for countries who had joined the EU after 2002 (as all four Visegrad states did). The target for these countries was .33% of GNI, whereas all Visegrad states had reached between .12%-.14% in 2016.

So here too is an area of potential compromise: EU countries in general and Visegrad countries in particular could strive harder to reach their development assistance goals as part of an effort to improve living conditions in countries that currently experience high levels of emigration. But it should be remembered that development aid doesn’t end wars.

Can member states work together?

Looking at the migration policy proposed by the Visegrad states in Budapest, its possible to identify at least three areas where compromises should be possible:

1.) Provide additional means of applying for asylum from outside of the EU

2.) Continue to secure EU borders while supplying assistance for identification and registration of people seeking asylum at entry points to the EU

3.) Increase development aid, for instance, by getting closer to Official Development Assistance goals.

Interestingly, the viable parts of Visegrad’s migration platform all point to one thing: more money. There’s no doubt that providing more financial support up and down the asylum system can make a difference in how well the EU handles migration and asylum. But is it enough to replace the human aspect of accepting people into societies?

At the end of the day, no matter how much funding is offered and how many restrictions are applied, there are numerous people that are truly entitled to protection under laws agreed to in Europe for over half of a century, many of whom are already here. Increasing funds to prevent people from coming might be an area both sides can agree on, but it cannot possibly represent more than a partial solution to the current standoff over people already here and waiting for help.

 

Sources and Further Reading
Will Fear of Refugees Become the Status Quo in Czech Republic? MV
Relocation: Commission launches infringement procedures against the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. Press Release, European Commission. June 2017.
Pending Case: Slovakia v. Council. Info-Curia, European Court of Justice.
Thirteenth Report on Resettlement and Relocation, European Commission, June 2017
MFA statement on the European Commission’s decision to launch infringement procedures against Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, June 2017
Interview with Andrej Babis.  Parlamentní listy, July 2017.
Viktor Orbán’s answers to questions from audience members after his speech at the Bálványos Summer Open University and Student Camp. (Speech Transcript) Hungarian Government, July 2016
Joint Statement by the Prime Ministers of the V4 Countries on Migration, Visegrad Group, July 2017
Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, UNHCR
States Parties to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967
Protocol, UNHCR
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN
Questions & Answers: the new European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Press Release, European Commission, 2016
Frontex to Get Budget Hike After Refugee Failures, EUobserver, 2015
EU unveils more measures to help Italy deal with Migrant Crises, Financial Times, July 2017
Council conclusions on annual report 2017 on EU development aid targets, European Commission, May 2017
Header image via Poland MFA on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2uumbVB (CC BY-NC 2.0)