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Reversing the Rhetoric on Immigrant Demonization

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Authors: Angel E. Gomez and Ismail D. Gunes, Ph.D.

It comes as no surprise that the current Trump administration has steered itself in questionable behaviors that put into jeopardy the safety and well-being of individuals seeking to enter the country legally through asylum petitions. Unfortunately, the topic of immigration has become so highly politicized over the past years that right-wing politicians have introduced rhetoric condemning immigrants and linking them to the reason why America is facing high waves of criminal occurrences.  Such views are negatively portrayed even when for more than a century, innumerable studies have confirmed two simple yet powerful truths about the relationship between immigration and crime: immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime and property crime. Nonetheless and regardless of facts, during Trump’s political campaign, on June 16, 2017, Trump stated that Mexico was not sending their best citizens over the border, that the individuals crossing into the US were criminals, rapists, drug dealers, and that only a few were good people.   

Anti-immigrant rhetoric has created and increased anti-immigrant sentiments in the United States.  Such negative views on immigration have essentially ledthe current administration to enforcelaws that make it even more inhumane and difficult for immigrants to enter the country through licit meansIn her article, Eunice Leeindicates how members of the Trump administration like former Attorney General, Jeff Sessions encountered and utilized loopholes in the system to deter asylum cases from being accepted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. 

In a speech given to Immigration Judges, Sessions “expressed strong views against asylum seekers, broadly questioning the legitimacy of their claims. In fact, Sessions cited rampant abuse and fraud, while indicating that the system was being played by immigrants. Furthermore, Sessions questioned the credible fear process and claimed that requesting asylum had essentially become an easy ticket to illegal entry into the United States”.  The aforementioned speech did not only convey anti-immigrant ideologies, but served for Sessions to issue Matter of A-B- decision on June 11, 2018, which essentially dictates that the “majority of asylum claims are not valid”.  Matter of A-B practically questions credible fear proceedings and makes it extremely difficult for individuals to successfully file asylum claims.  Following the speech, the Asylum office provided guidance to its officers to apply such regulations when reviewing cases, which as previously mentioned, left many asylum seekers vulnerable to further abuse, as figures from 2013-2019 indicate that hundreds of deported individuals continue to suffer physical and sexual abuse in their country of origin.

It is imperative to mention that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 14) indicates that every individual is granted the right to seek asylum in other countries to avoid different forms of persecution. Consequently, the current administration is invalidating an international freedom that should be granted to every human being around the globe when faced with specific types of persecution in their country of origin. Fortunately, the American Civil Liberties Union intervened and questioned the legality of the regulation in place. As a result of such litigation, a United States District Court judge in the District of Columbia, dictated that the Department of Homeland Security along with immigration judges were not to apply certain aspects of Session’s Matter of A-B policy when reviewing asylum cases

The Trump administration continued to enact laws aimed at hurting the immigrant population. For example, on April 6, 2018, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced “zero-tolerance” policy, which separated thousands of children from their parents and criminalized border crossings.  In addition to the Zero Tolerance Policy, Trump enacted the Muslim Travel Ban on January 27, 2017, which was upheld by the Supreme Court on June 26, 2018,by indicating that the president was within his legal right to implement such a ban, as it was a matter of national security. Unfortunately, the Travel Ban ended serving as a means to decrease the number of legal entries into the United States from individuals of Middle Eastern descent.

The aforementioned regulations have only aided the anti-immigrant wave that is currently undertaking the country.  Consequently and as a direct result of the negative connotation and hateful rhetoric placed on minority groups, many immigrants have been subject to numerous forms of discrimination and victimization. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report, indicates that hate crimes had a significant increase during the time Trump’s campaign took place and all throughout his continued term as president.  In fact, it is claimed that racial and ethnic inspired crimes dramatically increased during the election month of November 2016.

Unfortunately, immigrants and other ethnic minorities have been directly impacted by the anti-immigrant rhetoric accompanied by anti-immigrant laws and regulations.  The immigrant community continues to suffer as a result of the actions taken by the current administration, which resembles a sense of “nationalism”, hate, and division.  The highly politicized topic of immigration needs to dissipate if the US as a nation wishes to become a more solidified society.  Nonetheless, it appears that America is currently far from understanding that as opposed to common belief and negative stereotypes, immigrants, especially first generation immigrants are able to reduce crime rates in society.

Although it seems like the nation is extremely distant from accurately understanding how the immigration phenomenon truly affects society, the upcoming change in administration that resulted from Trump’s defeat against his democrat counterpart, Joe Biden, has the potential to instill a brighter future for all immigrants.  The Biden administration has promised to reverse the strict and punitive regulations enacted under Trump’s management.  In fact, in order to unwind the numerous policies currently in place in a timely manner, President-Elect Joe Biden can and will utilize his authority through the implementation of executive orders.

It will be imperative for the upcoming Biden administration to revoke anti-immigrant legislation the like of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which was revitalized and utilized by the Trump administration to apprehend and deport legal immigrants with past criminal records.  Nonetheless, it appears that doing away with such laws will remain a challenge, as President Trump was able to appoint three conservative Supreme Court Justices, who form part of the majority and are likely to overturn drastic decisions made by the upcoming 46th President of the United States.

Aside from the difficulties and challenges that the new administration may face, it is essential that the future President undertakes a firm stance against anti-immigrant rhetoric and instead, instills and overflows the entire social context with messages of unity and reform. Taking a positive posture on the topic at hand could without a doubt, effectively combat the ill-feelings associated with immigration.  In addition, the new administration could report on the actual positive impacts that immigration has on society.

On November 7, 2020, Joe Biden briefly addressed the nation after being named President-elect.  In his speech, Biden emphasized the importance of unity and doing away with the “era of demonization”. Pulling away from the harsh environment in which America currently finds itself will not be an easy task, nonetheless, it is not and impossible one and it appears the nation is headed in the right direction.

Angel E. Gomez is a Homeland Security and Public Administration Graduate Student at Sul Ross State University. Mr. Gomez received his Dual Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology and Sociology from the University of Houston – Clear Lake in 2012. Mr. Gomez has several publications to include topics of Criminal Justice and Deinstitutionalization. At present, he is serving in the Child Welfare field.

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Who benefits more from the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva?

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With the Putin-Biden summit in Geneva around the corner, the question is who actually benefits more from the meeting in the small Swiss town.

Mainstream media and right-wing foreign policy thinkers alike have argued that a joint press conference would “elevate” President Putin to the level of the American President.

Ivana Strander, the Jeane Kirkpatrick fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, argued that the upcoming Geneva summit is actually “a gift” to Putin.

In a CNN story, Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak mention that “officials who have been involved in arranging past US meetings with Putin say the Russian side often pushes for a joint press conference, hoping to elevate Putin’s stature by having him appear alongside the American leader”.

Whether as a subconscious bias or an actual reflection of attitudes, prevalent is the idea that coming close to the US President is a privilege that other leaders can only dream about. But who gains more from the upcoming summit?

In fact, it is the American President who is vying for other leaders’ approval and acceptance once again after a humiliating period – not the other way around. American is emerging from Trumpism, which revealed the other, ugly face of America. Trumpism is not gone and the other face of America is still there.

This week, US President Joe Biden is eager to show the world that America is “back”. In meetings with the G7, NATO countries’ top leaders, the NATO Secretary General, the Queen of England, and President Putin in the same week, Biden is asking the world to forget the last four years. And he is not doing this from the position of power or superiority. That’s why assuming that other heads of state, be it Putin or anyone else really, can only gain by coming close to the superiority of the American President is a misplaced and misguided. The US President is asking the international community to take America back – not the other way around.

President Putin doesn’t need the US President’s acceptance – Putin already got that. That happened back in 2018, in Helsinki, when President Trump sided with Putin over the US government’s own intelligence agencies, by rejecting the idea of Russia’s meddling in the US presidential elections. Trump slapped across the face and humiliated the US intelligence community in front of the whole world. Ever since, the US intelligence community has tried to figure out ways to prove Trump wrong and show him otherwise. And they have gone to incredible lengths, only so that they can get their pay pack of a sort, and prove Trump wrong. So, Putin already got what he wanted. He doesn’t need more “elevation”.

What’s also striking is that in Geneva, the UN is absolutely missing from the action. Geneva is the home of numerous UN agencies and international organizations, and not one is actually involved, which speaks volumes to questions of relevance. It is the Swiss government from Bern which is organizing the Summit. The UN is nowhere to be seen which is also indicative of the current Biden priorities.

If Trump was about “America First”, then Biden is about “America is still number one, right?”. But as the United Kingdom learned the hard way recently, it is sometimes best for a declining power to perhaps elegantly realize that the rest of the world no longer wants to dance to its tune, or at least not to its tune only. Discussions about how much Putin gains from coming close to the presence of the US President are misguided. In trying to climb back on the international stage on crotches and covered up in bruises, America is not in a position to look down on other big powers. And as regards who benefits more from the Summit, it seems like one side is there with a clear request asking for something. My understanding is that it is Biden who wants Putin to hand cyber criminals over to him. Putin still hasn’t said what he wants from Biden, in return.

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Trump’s legacy hangs over human rights talk at upcoming Biden-Putin Geneva summit

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biden-syria
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Two days after the NATO Summit in Brussels on Monday, US President Joe Biden will be in Geneva to hold a much anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders are meeting at the shores of Lake Geneva at a villa in Parc la Grange – a place I know very well and actually called home for a long time. The park itself will be closed to the public for 10 days until Friday.

A big chunk of the lakeside part of the city will be closed off, too. Barb wire and beefed up security measures have already been put in place to secure the historic summit. The otherwise small city will be buzzing with media, delegations and curious onlookers.

I will be there too, keeping the readers of Modern Diplomacy updated with what’s taking place on the ground with photos, videos and regular dispatches from the Biden-Putin meeting.

The two Presidents will first and foremost touch on nuclear security. As an interlude to their meeting, the NATO Summit on Monday will tackle, among other things “Russian aggression”, in the words of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Last week, Stoltenberg said that he “told President Biden that Allies welcome the US decision, together with Russia, to extend the New START Treaty, limiting strategic weapons, and long-range nuclear weapons”. To extend the treaty is an important first step for Stoltenberg. This will be the obvious link between the two summits.

But Biden also has to bring up human rights issues, such as the poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny and Putin’s support for the jailing of Belarusian activists by Lukashenko. Human rights have to be high on the agenda at the Geneva Summit. And indeed, Biden has confirmed officially that pressing Putin on human rights will be a priority for the American side.

Biden and Putin are not fans of each other, to say the least. Both have made that clear in unusually tough rhetoric in the past. Over the years, Biden has said on numerous occasions that he has told Putin to his face that he doesn’t “have a soul”. Putin’s retort was that the men “understand each other”.

Right at the beginning of his Presidency, earlier this year, Biden also dropped the bomb calling President Putin a “killer” for ordering the assassination of political opponents. The Russian president responded to the “killer” comment on Russian television by saying that “it takes one to know one”. Putin also wished Biden good health, alluding to the US President’s age and mental condition which becomes a subject of criticism from time to time.

Understandably, Putin and Biden are not expected to hold a joint press conference next week. But we weren’t expecting that, anyways.

For me, this Summit has a special meaning. In the context of repression against political opponents and critical media voices, President Biden needs to demonstrate that the US President and the US government are actually different from Putin – if they are any different from Putin.

This week, we were reminded of Trump’s legacy and the damage he left behind. One of Trump’s lasting imprints was revealed: Trump had the Department of Justice put under surveillance Trump’s political opponents. Among them House Democrats, including Congressman Adam Shiff, who was one of the key figures that led Trump’s first impeachment that showed that Trump exerted pressure on Ukrainian authorities to go after Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.

In the context of Trump’s impact, President Biden needs to show that there has to be zero tolerance towards the cover up by the US government of politically motivated attacks against voices critical of the US government. If President Biden wants to demonstrate that the US government is any different from Putin’s Russia, Secretary of State Blinken and FBI director Chris Wray have to go. Biden has to show that he won’t tolerate the cover up of attacks on political critics and the media, and won’t spare those that stand in the way of criminal justice in such instances.

Biden is stuck in the 2000s when it comes to Eastern Europe, as I argued last week but he needs to wake up. President Biden and the US government still haven’t dealt effectively with Trump’s harmful impact on things that the US really likes to toot its horn about, such as human rights and freedom. Whether the upcoming Geneva Summit will shed light on that remains to be seen.

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Will Geneva Be Any Different Than Helsinki?

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Any meeting between the leaders of Russia and the U.S. is inevitably an important international event. At some point in history, such summits decided the fate of the entire world, and the world held its collective breath as it followed Kremlin-White House talks on strategic arms or the two sides seeking agreements on urgent regional problems or any political signals coming from the superpower capitals prior to another round of negotiations.

The bipolar era has long been gone, and the Russia-U.S. relations are no longer the principal axis of international politics, although the suspense over bilateral summits remains. As before, the two countries are engaged in “top-down” interaction. Summits give the initial impetus to Moscow and Washington’s cumbersome bureaucratic machines, then diplomats, military personnel and officials start their assiduous work on specific issues, collaboration between the two countries’ private sectors and civil society perks up, the media gradually soften their rhetoric, bilateral projects in culture, education and science are gradually resumed.

Still, there are annoying exceptions to this general rule. In particular, the latest full-fledged Russia–U.S. summit in Helsinki in July 2018 failed to trigger improvements in bilateral relations. On the contrary, Donald Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in Finland’s capital aroused massive resentment among the anti-Russian Washington establishment. Ultimately, on returning home, the U.S. President had to offer awkward apologies to his supporters and opponents alike, and relations between the two countries continued to rapidly deteriorate after the summit.

Surely, nobody is willing to see another Helsinki scenario in June 2021, this time in Geneva. Yet, do we have good reason to hope for a different outcome this time? To answer this question, let us compare Donald Trump and Joseph Biden’s approaches to Russia-U.S. summits and to bilateral relations at large.

First of all, in Helsinki, Trump very much wanted the Russian leader to like him. The Republican President avoided publicly criticizing his Russian counterpart and was quite generous with his compliments to him, which inevitably caused not only annoyance but pure outrage in Washington and in Trump’s own Administration. Joe Biden has known Vladimir Putin for many years; he does not set himself the task of getting the Russian leader to like him. As far as one can tell, the two politicians do not have any special liking for each other, with this more than reserved attitude unlikely to change following their meeting in Geneva.

Additionally, in Helsinki, Trump wanted, as was his wont, to score an impressive foreign policy victory of his own. He believed he was quite capable of doing better than Barack Obama with his “reset” and of somehow “hitting it off” with Putin, thereby transforming Russia if not into a U.S. ally, then at least into its strategic partner. Apparently, Biden has no such plans. The new American President clearly sees that Moscow-Washington relations will remain those of rivalry in the near future and will involve direct confrontation in some instances. The Kremlin and the White House have widely diverging ideas about today’s world: about what is legitimate and what is illegitimate, what is fair and what is unfair, where the world is heading and what the impending world order should be like. So, we are not talking about a transition from strategic confrontation to strategic partnership, we are talking about a possible reduction in the risks and costs of this necessarily costly and lengthy confrontation.

Finally, Trump simply had much more time to prepare for the Helsinki summit than Biden has had to prepare for Geneva. Trump travelled to Finland eighteen months after coming to power. Biden is planning to meet with Putin in less than five months since his inauguration. Preparations for the Geneva summit have to be made in haste, so the expectations concerning the impending summit’s outcome are less.

These differences between Biden and Trump suggest that there is no reason to expect a particularly successful summit. Even so, we should not forget the entire spectrum of other special features of the Biden Administration’s current style of foreign policy. They allow us to be cautiously optimistic about the June summit.

First, Donald Trump never put too much store by arms control, since he arrogantly believed the U.S. capable of winning any race with either Moscow or Beijing. So, his presidential tenure saw nearly total destruction of this crucial dimension of the bilateral relations, with all its attendant negative consequences for other aspects of Russia-U.S. interaction and for global strategic stability.

In contrast, Biden remains a staunch supporter of arms control, as he has already confirmed by his decision to prolong the bilateral New START. There are grounds for hoping that Geneva will see the two leaders to at least start discussing a new agenda in this area, including militarization of outer space, cyberspace, hypersonic weapons, prompt global strike potential, lethal autonomous weapons etc. The dialogue on arms control beyond the New START does not promise any quick solutions, as it will be difficult for both parties. Yet, the sooner it starts, the better it is going to be for both countries and for the international community as a whole.

Second, Trump never liked multilateral formats, believing them to be unproductive. Apparently, he sincerely believed that he could single-handedly resolve any burning international problems, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to North Korea’s nuclear missile programme.

Biden does not seem to harbor such illusions. He has repeatedly emphasized the importance of multilateralism, and he clearly understands that collaboration with Russia is necessary on many regional conflicts and crises. Consequently, Geneva talks may see the two leaders engage in a dialogue on Afghanistan, on the Iranian nuclear deal, on North Korea, or even on Syria. It is not at all obvious that Biden will succeed in reaching agreement with Putin immediately on all or any of these issues, but the very possibility of them discussed at the summit should be welcomed.

Third, Trump was not particularly fond of career diplomats and, apparently, attached little value to the diplomatic dimension of foreign policy. The Russia-U.S. “embassy war” had started before Trump—but not only did Trump fail to stop it, he boosted it to an unprecedented scale and urgency.

Sadly, the “embassy war” continues after Trump, too. Yet President Biden, with his tremendous foreign policy experience, understands diplomatic work better and appreciates it. Practical results of the Geneva summit could include a restoration of the diplomatic missions in Washington and Moscow to their full-fledged status and a rebuilding of the networks of consular offices, which have been completely destroyed in recent years. Amid the problems of big politics, consular services may not seem crucial but, for most ordinary Russians and Americans, regaining the opportunity for recourse to rapid and efficient consular services would outweigh many other potential achievements of the Geneva summit.

From our partner RIAC

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