This article originally appeared on VICE Spain
As Europeans, we generally like to think we're more socially advanced and progressive than Americans, and Donald J. Trump's first few days as president of the United States have done little to debunk that perception. Trump, among other things, denied access to the US for people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, and is still keen on the whole "building a wall along the entire US border with Mexico" thing.
Border walls aren't a foreign concept to Europeans. The last one wasn't demolished in 1989; there's still one between Spain and Morocco, for instance, and one in Greece. And over the last few years thousands of migrants have died trying to get into Europe. I spoke to David Bondia, Professor of Public International Law at the University of Barcelona, who believes Europe and the United States are "just equally mean" in their immigration policies.
VICE: How do European and US immigration polices differ?
David Bondia: Well, they're more or less the same. The way they go about it is a bit different. Trump signed his executive order in the heat of the moment, and he has the executive power to do so. In Europe, decisions like that have to pass through national parliaments. But the result is basically the same.
So is there any policy in Europe comparable to what Trump did last weekend?
I think so, yes. Many anti-terrorism laws are mostly used to undercut fundamental human rights and people's privacy under the guise of security. And so many laws concerning immigration seem to suggest that human rights are privileges and can be commodified.
Can you give an example?
One example involves a number of European countries denying immigrants access to public health care. That's a violation of the human right to health care, but it has been a reality in many European countries for years. In Spain in 2012, for example, a right-wing party approved a royal decree that excludes anyone who isn't registered in the public healthcare system from health care. They'll eventually have to deal with the European Court of Human Rights, but that's not a real threat to many national politicians in Europe.
But they're democratically elected officials – aren't they just doing what the public wants?
I don't think so. The European right-wing – as well as the American – doesn't have that much support in absolute terms, if you take into account all the people who haven't voted and have voted against them. Socially speaking, just a small percentage of the population agrees with those deeply right-wing speeches. I don't just mean Trump, but also Marine Le Pen in France or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, for example. I don't think it's a majority of the people, but they all vote and that's what makes their opinion weigh so much on a national scale.
And immigrants in both Europe and the US aren't allowed to vote.
Exactly – while these are people who work, pay taxes and contribute to our countries, sometimes for decades. That's the case in all European countries except Scandinavia. In Denmark, if immigrants can vote in the country where they came from, they can do it in Denmark in local elections.
How can countries just bypass international treaties?
Most immigration laws in European countries bypass international treaties, and countries are yet to be reprimanded for it. One of the most painful examples is the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, adopted by the United Nations in 1990. It's great – it protects the rights of migrant workers in their country of origin and in the country of their destination. It even guarantees certain benefits if the worker decides to return to his or her country of origin. Do you know how many Western countries ratified it?
Zero. Not just European countries, but also the US, Australia and many other developed countries. It was mostly passed by the countries of origin of those immigrants, so to speak. It's funny – Spain considered approving it in 2008, in the midst of the crisis, when many Spanish workers had to go abroad to find a job.
But at least we haven't banned people from seven Muslim-majority countries under the guise of "national security". Can we take some comfort in that?
We have a visa policy [in Spain] that can be extremely random. What's a little better here is that if you're an immigrant and you're denied a visa for a country you'll mostly be denied access as a person, instead of just because you're a citizen of a certain country. But the basis on which you can be denied a visa can still be very perverse.
What would happen if we followed Trump's example with this executive order?
It would be a disaster. Trump has banned people from countries that the US has no real trade interest with. That would be difficult in Europe, because we have more profitable trade relations with those countries. It really is absurd that we want access to African resources, but don't allow them to do the same here.
So now what, professor?
Well, that's an easy one, if you ask me. All this nonsense, these policies that are a straight violation of human rights, should mobilise a global movement of civil resistance. And we need to change our language – it shouldn't be about one group of people tolerating the other, it should be about everybody co-existing together.
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