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Donald Trump’s Rhetoric Towards The Caravan Migrants Is Not Only Dangerous – It’s Illegal

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The Washington Post via Getty Images

Donald Trump will deploy over 5,000 troops to the border of the United States and Mexico in order to fend off a group of asylum seekers travelling toward the border in what is now being called the ‘migrant caravan’ – roughly the same number of troops are currently deployed in Iraq, and double the amount that are currently fighting ISIS in Syria. 

The caravan is a convey of people fleeing Central America, beginning in Honduras, to attempt to seek asylum in the US. The group left Honduras together on the 13th of October and made their way through Guatemala and then Mexico, picking up more asylum seekers on their way.

“Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border. Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process,” Trump tweeted after being alerted to their plans. 

But his threats didn’t stop there; he has been clear he will take action to prevent the caravan migrants from making claims to seek asylum in the US.

Trump’s response appears to be based on the notion that people approaching the border seeking political asylum is illegal, and does not fall within the proper legal process. He is wrong.

Under the 1951 Refugees Convention, every person has a right to seek asylum in whichever country they choose. They have the right to flee their homelands and make an application for protection based on fear of persecution or violence. This is precisely what these asylum seekers intend to do when they reach the US, meaning they will be following precisely the correct legal process.

Trump described the caravan as an “invasion”, again indicating he is operating under the belief that seeking asylum by approaching a country’s border is illegal. It isn’t. Not only is it not illegal; in fact the US government, as a signatory of the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, has a positive obligation to provide protection for people seeking asylum.

Of course this doesn’t mean that every person has the right to be granted asylum. It means that every person has the right to seek asylum. What Trump is doing by militarising the border and stating that the migrants’ applications will not be considered goes far beyond having a tough stance on granting asylum: it is an attempt to remove the possibility of seeking asylum altogether. As a result, it violates one of the most fundamental and well-recognised rules of international law.

This is a gravely concerning crescendo in a build-up of Trump’s attempts to flout the law. It began with his “Muslim ban” and continued with his attacks on members of the judiciary. Now he is railing against seventy years’ worth of settled international jurisprudence – a profoundly dangerous escalation.

The president’s actions appear to be an attempt to act tough on immigration in the lead-up to next week’s midterm elections. But we must be wary of where to draw the line: what he is proposing is not hard-line politics, it is unlawful.

If we allow Trump’s rhetoric to blur the line between politics and law, we will end up with a dangerous precedent. This is particularly true given we now live in a world where seeking asylum – from political regimes or from the effects of climate change – will only become more and more prominent, and therefore respect for the international law on this issue will need to be stronger than ever.

As another limb of his bid to appear tough on immigration ahead of the midterms, Trump also announced plans to use an executive order to strip citizenship from those born in the US to immigrant parents. Under the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution, every person who is born in the US is a citizen by birthright. Trump is proposing to override the nation’s founding document itself.

As with his plan to block asylum claims, legally there is no way a president can sign an executive order that removes rights set down by the US Constitution, so his immigration plan will not get very far in this regard. But it is alarming that he is even making an attempt to use the power of the presidency to strip people of legal rights expressly protected by the Constitution.

The rule of law is supposed to act as a floor below which no government or authority can fall; it ensures us that no amount of political game-playing can lead to severe breaches of human rights or dignity. The United States, with its commitment to its Bill of Rights and active courts system, has always prided itself on having a robust rule of law. Trump is trying to change that.

He is a president who thinks he is above the law altogether, and that makes him very dangerous indeed. The results of next week’s midterm elections will give us an indication of how the American people are responding to his attempt at omnipotence.

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