Who needs a wall? US-Mexico Immigration during a Pandemic

Covid Anniversary Blog

`Never say never’ … the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico has fallen.

Well, not literary, but since the inauguration of Joe Biden, they have stopped building it. Yet this is largely symbolic, as due to pandemic, the U.S.-Mexico border continues to be closed. In fact, since March 2020 the US-Mexico border has been closed to all but essential crossings. All immigration procedures were put on hold and asylum seekers desperate to reach the U.S. were told to wait in Mexico, living in shelters under inhuman conditions.

Yet there is an even darker side to this story. With no hope of the border re-opening, migrants have turned to the people smugglers. The pandemic has also made it more difficult for the US authorities to infiltrate such smuggling rings; and economic deprivation brought about by the pandemic has increased incentives for Mexicans to participate in people smuggling. The pandemic has created a circle of migration error.

Most of the undocumented Mexicans enter the U.S. to provide for their families back home. 3% of Mexico’s GDP was attributed to such money flows in 2019. This has increased during the pandemic, with Mexico recording a record 4 billion dollars in money transfers in March 2020. This contrasts with the majority of other Latin American countries who have experienced a fall in the bank transfers from the U.S in 2020.

Many Mexican immigrants are also ‘critical workers’ in construction, food services, manufacturing industries, making them more vulnerable to Covid-19. They pay taxes, add to the U.S. economy, but many of them cannot enter healthcare system and they are afraid of being caught by the authorities; increasing their risk during the pandemic, and the risk of others.

Yet with the Biden administration comes a new approach. Deportations have been halted for 100 days. ‘Dreamers’- immigrants who came to the U.S. with their parents illegally have had their protection from deportation reinstated. Asylum seekers no longer need to wait in Mexico to be allowed to enter the U.S., and the U.S. is now doing everything possible to reunite detained migrant children, separated from their family as a result of policies pursued by the Trump administration, with their parents.

There are ways to cross the border; asking for asylum, migrant smugglers, temporary work VISAs, sending children. The pandemic, and not the wall, changed is how to get to the ‘promised land’; but if the socio-economic situation in Mexico does not improve, there will incentives to find a way – legal or illegal – to cross.

And the wall is still standing…

Katia Adimora is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Department of English, History and Creative Writing at Edge Hill University. Twitter: @AdimoraKatia

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COVID-19, (im)mobility and Health Inequalities

Covid Anniversary Blog

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on human mobility and migration.

Governments across the world took extraordinary measures to curtail international travel and movement of peoples whilst simultaneously calling all their citizens to return home. Domestic systems of disease management followed including enforced quarantine and closed borders. The pandemic was initially thought as an equalizer; a global phenomenon and suffering, and a common basis for global solidarity, but it has been anything but.

One year on and the new understanding is that COVID-19 and (im)mobility has exposed even more global and local inequalities. The way nation states regulated (im)mobilities may have changed, but the fundamental principles that guided the unequal treatment of some groups and forms of movement have only gained more traction.  While access to and practices of movement – be it international or local – are known to be uneven and as such to generate more inequalities, health (im)mobilities have been little scrutinised, and less so in relation to ethnic and racial diversity.

The reasons are manifold. A Global Society on Migration, Ethnicity, Race and Health Conference has shown that the approach of nation-states has been that of bio-security and not that of a right to health. Facing various issues of access to healthcare before the pandemic, economic migrants and refugees have not been meaningfully included in the emergency resource allocation during the past 12 months. The impact of these policy gaps on the health attitudes and experiences of these groups following the pandemic makes scapegoating potentially high.

Furthermore, the attitude of nation-states towards measuring the impact of COVID-19 in relation to race and ethnicity varies greatly, and sometimes there are also differences between states and local authorities. This variability has consequences for gaining an understanding of patterns at local, national, regional and global level and for comparative analyses to take place.

The bio-security agenda may lead to even deeper mobility inequalities, not least because of harsher immigration restrictions and lower accountability for policy-makers at national level. As a new era of bio-politics dawns in the wake of COVID-19 it is likely that little may change for racial and ethnic inequalities, particularly for migrants.

Dr Zana Vathi is a Reader in Social Sciences at Edge Hill University. She also an ISR Fellow and Director of the Migration Working Group, North West.

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Windrush as Watershed? Revisiting migration policy and practice in the UK

In the volatile COVID-19 era, the shift of the UK government away from the ‘hostile environment’ may come as a surprise to some. Priti Patel’s statement on the 21st July 2020 on a more compassionate ‘people, not cases’ approach to immigration in the wake of the Windrush scandal contrasts sharply with Brexit and its aggressive approach towards immigration. The significant impact of the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) on the mental health, wellbeing and belongingness to Britain among EU citizens is said to be huge. The plight of EU citizens and consistent activism to make EUSS accessible, particularly considering the increased barriers towards the vulnerable EU citizens groups since COVID-19 struck, is ongoing.

Windrush

The 1948 British Nationality Act conferred unrestricted entry and the right to live and work in the UK on citizens of the UK’s colonies and the Commonwealth. The act was intended to attract workers from the colonies in a bid to address labour shortages in post war Britain. Between 1948 and 1973 approximately 550,000 West Indians migrated to the UK. The 1971 Immigration Act introduced stricter immigration controls, requiring potential migrants to have family in Britain or apply for a work permit. Whilst this act effectively ended the Windrush migration, it also gave indefinite leave to remain to all those who arrived up until 1973.

The ‘Hostile Environment’

Between 2007-2018, UK government’s immigration policy focused on the creation of a hostile environment for so-called ‘illegal’ immigrants. At the centre was the burden to prove/document the right to live and work in Britain, which determined access to employment, housing, bank accounts and health care. Given the nature of the Windrush migration between 1948 and 1973 many had never regularised their status and could not document their right to remain. From late 2017 the press ran stories of the Windrush generation and their descendants risking deportation, facing homelessness and unemployment and being refused medical treatment. The international community responded swiftly, whilst at home the Church of England started a petition for an immigration amnesty for the Windrush migrants and the scandal led the then Home Secretary Amber Rudd to resign in April 2018.

The impact of Windrush

The true number of victims of the scandal remains unclear. The Home Office believes that 160 Windrush migrants were incorrectly detained or deported since 2002. Up till May 2020, 60 people had received compensation and 1257 had applied, but the scheme is deemed not fit for purpose because it is not easily accessible by claimants.

COVID-19 pandemic and backlog built-up

The ongoing pandemic appears to have had some impact on figures relating to immigration in the UK, risking to create a backlog of cases with the potential of placing migrants at risk of immigration control measures.Applications for the EU settlement scheme numbered 67,300 in April 2020 – a decrease of 46% on the previous month.Asylum applications and initial decisions have also fallen during lockdown.

A systematic scrutiny of migration governance and management is needed so that impactful precedents such as Windrush do not remain grouped under specific case studies. In light of Brexit’s strong anti-immigration focus and the further complications of migration management due to the ongoing pandemic, the new ‘people, not cases’ approach will likely fail to materialise. The UK immigration policy should not just be reactive to system’s failures, but take a human rights approach to migration which should pre-empt major violations and disruptions of migrant-origin people’s lives.

Dr Zana Vathi is an ISR Fellow, Director of the Migration Working Group – North West, and Reader in Social Sciences at Edge Hill University

Samantha Carney, is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in Social Sciences at Edge Hill University


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Migration Working Group – North West Seminar Series 2018/19

Migration Working Group-North West (MWG-NW) brings together academics, organisations and practitioners working on migration who are either based in the North West of the UK or researching migration in this region.  In collaboration with I4P, the Migration Working Group – North West successfully hosted two seminars in the autumn semester.

19th October 2018 Inaugural Talk Prof Adrian Favell (University of Leeds),  ‘From Political Economy to Political Demography: Beyond Methodological Nationalism’.  In this seminar, Prof Adrian Favell talked about key issues in moving beyond conventional discussions of the political economy of international migration. He also explained the relevance of different paradigms such as the Marxist (i.e. global capitalist governance), Foucauldian (i.e., governmentality, biopower) and Liberal (i.e. institutionalist) in political economy. Furthermore, Prof Adrian Favell expressed how a more developed empirical agenda speaking to debates on global inequalities and development might be conceived.

15th November 2018 Dr Giovanna Fassetta (University of Glasgow) ‘Online Arabic from Palestine and Linguistic Hospitality’.  Dr Giovanna Fassetta discussed the process of online collaboration to design an Online Arabic language course. The project was funded by the AHRC under their GCRF scheme and resulted in the Online Arabic from Palestine language course. The international and multilingual project was based in the School of Education, University of Glasgow (UK) and in the Gaza Strip (Palestine). Furthermore, she also presented about her new project that aims to link the Online Arabic from Palestine course and the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy for 2018-2020, which has recently been launched by the Scottish Government. The new project will discuss how ‘linguistic hospitality’ can be a way to welcome refugees and thus effectively facilitate integration as a two-way process.

The next MWG-NW event, sponsored by I4P, will be on 7th February 2019:
‘Language, Citizenship and Postcolonial Languaging’ with Prof Anne-Marie Fortier (Lancaster University). The talk will focus on language requirements for immigrant seeking permanent residency or citizenship, and how race and language are deeply connected through the entanglement of regimes of seeing with regimes of hearing.

Zana Vathi is Director of the MWG-NW and Reader in Social Sciences here at Edge Hill University.