When did we acquiesce, as a species, to overt racism? When did we decide it’s OK for our leaders to speak publicly and candidly about human beings as though they’re chattel? When did mutual mistrust take the place of charity?
It wasn’t the beginning of Donald Trump’s run at the White House, and it wasn’t when voters in the U.K. decided to leave one of the most important multinational coalitions in our species’ history. Both of these events are symptoms – not the cause – of the anti-immigration hysteria that’s sweeping the entire globe.
Like each of his many other spectacular failures, Trump’s political career is destined to become a sad little footnote in human history – but Brexit? That could be something else entirely. The implications are enormous, and will be felt for a very, very long time to come.
While the developed world is still reeling from the result of the referendum, another group of human beings is waiting in the shadows for their fate to be decided. Immigrants are now left to face the fallout from Brexit – and – if things continue on their current trajectory, it’s going to be a very long time until they wake from this fresh new nightmare.
Racism Is Not Patriotism
Anti-immigration sentiment might claim to come from a well-meaning place – protect our borders, our jobs and our women, etc. – but you’d have to be both ignorant and remarkably strong-willed to not see it for what it is: racism, pure and simple.
A significant plank in the Leave Campaign’s platform was the promise of returning so-called democratic control of immigration policy to the people, rather than leaving it in the hands of the governing body we know as the European Union. As in: Forget international cooperation and due process – we’re doing this our way!
As a result, in the days following the Brexit result, racism and violence toward nonwhite human beings in Europe has reached a fever pitch – particularly where Polish and Middle Eastern immigrants are concerned. One might have hoped that, over the last hundred years or so, we’d learned to look past the color of one’s skin. Unfortunately, this hardly seems to be the case, if modern politics is anything to judge by.
We’re now seeing the results of these kinds of sweeping judgments, and it’s about to make life for immigrants in Europe a living hell.
What Comes Next for Immigrants?
Theresa May, Britain’s new Prime Minister, confirmed earlier this year that tying the fate of Brexit to the fate of immigrants in Britain wasn’t just going to be an accidental byproduct of Brexit, but rather an actual, intentional feature of the then-ongoing negotiations. Her Tory rival was quick to deny that immigrants would be used as a bargaining chip, but we can see now that the damage is done.
Now that Brexit has come to pass, the fates of some 3 million EU citizens in Britain hangs in the delicate balance.
Before and since the Brexit vote, street violence committed against immigrants – Poles in particular – has seen a dramatic uptick. The message, loud and clear, is “Get out of our country.” Stacked alongside their other outlandish claims was the Leave Campaign’s assertion that “lawful” residents in the U.K. would be allowed to remain indefinitely.
Naturally, the meaning of the word “lawful” is anything but certain now that the votes are cast. Both lawful and unlawful immigrants who have resided in the U.K. – some of them for decades – are, along with the hate crimes and death threats, now finding themselves pushed about, as though on a global chess board.
So what’s going to happen to EU immigrants in the U.K.?
First, a nonbinding – but still important – motion was passed in the House of Commons that would allow EU citizens currently residing in the U.K. to remain there for good. The motion was backed by 245 MPs, and opposed by just two others. This would seem to have struck a blow against May’s suggestion that she was comfortable using the fates of these people as bargaining chips as the particulars of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU are hammered out.
Again, though, this motion is nonbinding, and does little to assuage the fears of these 3 million immigrants. MP Boris Johnson, meanwhile, has added his own voice to the quagmire, saying: “I think it is absolutely right to issue the strongest possible reassurance to EU nationals in this country.” Important words from the new Foreign Secretary.
Is widespread deportation likely – or even possible? A number of prominent figures appear to believe the answer is no. Here’s an interesting wrinkle, however: Even if the worst should come to pass, and the U.K. chose to throw 3 million people under the proverbial bus, a great many of them – British expats, mostly – would still have legal recourse and protections. Article 19 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights explicitly prohibits exactly this sort of collective expulsion of any group of people.
Another small shred of good news in all this chaos is the fact that that the global attention now being paid to the U.K., the EU and the Brexit negotiations is, even as it exacerbates them, also drawing the world’s eyes to the recent rise in anti-immigrant activities. A blessing and a curse, then.
Trumpism Is Not an Exclusively American Phenomenon
No discussion about the plight of migrants, immigrants and refugees would be complete without a thorough wag of the finger in Donald Trump’s direction. One needn’t go so far as pretending he invented xenophobia or racially driven paranoia, but it’s clear by now that he’s politically savvy enough to have sensed the winds of change in time to hitch his wagon to the global rise in immigration-based paranoia. The tragic part is, it’s working. By fueling the flames of mistrust and racism – both the implicit and explicit varieties – he’s both profited from, and managed to worsen, global racism.
Brexit is more of the same, but worse: It’s an example of what happens when democratic due process is used as a device to turn fringe sentiments into national and international law. We can claim all we like that the Brexit vote was democracy in action, and a lawful and civil way to settle significant differences, but the fact remains: The paper it’s written on is stained with blood.
Justin Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, has indicated that never before in his lifetime has the U.K. been home to the sort of venomous, violent anti-immigrant actions we’re now seeing: “Since the referendum, we have seen an outswelling of poison and hatred that I cannot remember in this country for many years.”
He went on to add that Brexit has “cracked the thin crust of politeness and tolerance” in the U.K.
Sound familiar? If images of a golden-haired tyrant are swimming before your eyes, you’re not imagining it. What Welby describes here is Trumpism writ large: It’s a surge of vocal protest from the so-called silent majority – that is, the regrettably substantial portion of the world’s population that appears to have been held hostage all this time by the sort of political correctness they spend time at campaign rallies screaming about. Trump’s rise to prominence has merely given them an excuse to start spewing their poison. Across the pond in the U.K., that excuse was Brexit.
Now that immigrants in Britain are facing potential deportation back to other member nations in the European Union, we have to come to terms with deeply uncomfortable parallels between the American mindset that resulted in Trumpism and the European mindset that handed the Leave Campaign their ill-gotten win during the Brexit vote.
The legal fallout from both of these racist crusades is going to be staggering. Lawyers and advocates across two continents are now busying themselves with the dizzying number of factors in play. This includes locating next-of-kin for detained immigrants, representing those immigrants at deportation hearings and assisting with immigration appeals should they prove necessary for people whose entire futures are now anything but certain.
A Land of Opportunity – Some Exceptions May Apply
We can pretend we’re protecting our precious homelands by making life more difficult for political and economic refugees, but it should be clear by now to any freethinking adult that the costs are going to be astronomical – and we’re not just talking about money.
Consider the Statue of Liberty: a gift from France that crossed an ocean to become a national landmark and a breathtaking symbol of intercontinental solidarity. It says something there on the tablet about welcoming the poor and the downtrodden. Did we miss some fine print? If we did, it probably says something about chipping off a piece of our collective soul each time we turn away so much as a single human being from shores that were supposed to be a safe haven.