It’s been one week since everyone’s favourite celebrity ‘politician’ was put in charge of the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet. While nothing yet has imploded, there are policies President Trump proposes that, if enforced, will have ripple effects for us all.
One such policy is to “suspend the issuance of [US] visas to any place where adequate screening cannot occur”: this includes Syria. The notoriously miserly politician (why only gold-plate your hotels when you can gold-plate your plane?) claims that the cost of resettling one refugee in the US is equivalent to resettling 12 refugees in a “safe zone” in their own region – bargain!
To enter Trump’s US, Syrian nationals would be submitted to “extreme vetting” which would include “ideological certification” to counter “Trojan Horse” (or, as his equally erudite son put it, ‘poisoned Skittle’) refugees. Leaving aside the divisive nature of these statements, could President Trump follow through on these ideas?
Immigration policy is normally (outside the EU) a matter of sovereign State decision-making: part of what makes a State a State is its possession of a “defined territory” per the 1933 Montevideo Convention. But the specific area of asylum and refugee law has international foundations, namely in the 1951 Refugee Convention to which the USA is a party (for now).
The Refugee Convention lays down 4 criteria: one must be outside one’s own country, have a well-founded fear of persecution, that persecution must be for having a trait (real or perceived) of race, religion (or lack of it), nationality, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group (including women), and one must be unable or unwilling (due to the well-founded fear) to claim home State protection. Some, such as war criminals, are excluded from claiming refugee status.
The case law behind these criteria is complex, but nothing supports having to adhere to a particular ideology – quite the opposite in fact: the whole point is that you should not be persecuted for having, or not having, a particular trait including a political opinion or religious belief. This is all in addition to the policy’s violation of the right to free speech, on which President Trump’s campaign drew a very fine line indeed. So this policy could potentially breach both refugee and human rights law.
Ironically, if Trump were to also enforce this policy on citizens already in-country (say to deal with the enemy within), then a ‘non-ideologically certified’ US citizen could reasonably claim a risk of persecution for not holding the approved ideology – leading to a raft of refugee applications from US citizens presumably to Canada (there would be a wall around Mexico at this point I’d imagine) and, who knows, Essex as well.
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