Monday, January 1, 2018

Trump Slashes the UN, but It Could Be So Much Worse

In case you haven't been following the ongoing knife fight between Trump and the UN, you may have missed the relatively modest budget cuts the Trump administration is now proposing. Any cuts in funding to the UN are painful, though if you poll Americans, most agree that we "pay to much" to the UN without realizing that the amount is less than 1% of our annual budget. The organization is perhaps the only giant bureaucracy in the world that is famous in America for its inefficiency, despite the fact that most Americans have zero personal experience with the UN, as opposed to hours and hours of personal experience on hold with their inept, overcharging and inefficiant cable company.

So many of us UN boosters greeted the Trump administration with a heavy heart. We were not surprised to see the Steve Bannon budget of death, nor were we unprepared for Nikki Haley's faux outrage at the fact that the other countries don't always agree with us. The US government has never liked a democratic process it can't control. So I was pleasantly surprised when I heard that the current proposed cuts to the UN budget are only $285 million. Remember that the annual US contribution to the UN, including all specialized agencies and peacekeeping, is over $3 billion. The 40% reduction originally proposed by the Trump administration would have removed at least a billion dollars from the UN's core budget and billions more from peacekeeping and the specialized agencies. It would have crippled the UN's work. (For contrast, you can read about G. W. Bush's cuts to the UN population fund due to concerns over abortion funding here. They were minor in comparison, though highly criticized at the time. Trump has also eliminated funding to the UN population fund.)

Don't get me wrong, these cuts will be felt, particularly if they are in addition to the $200 millions worth of cuts already proposed by the UN itself. But these cuts will leave core functions intact. Of course, the overall affect of multiple Trump administration budget cuts will be felt over the long hall, particularly if this is only the beginning of cuts, rather than the final number. It remains unclear if the Trump administration will preserve UNHCR's current funding levels. If the plan is to keep refugees where they are, countries like Lebanon, Bangladesh, Kenya and Turkey are going to need a lot more money for camps.

What about Stateless Dreamers? An Open Letter to Cory Booker

Millions of people world wide are stateless. The current population of stateless people in the US is unknown, but it is likely that the global problem of statelessness is reflected here in the US in micro. As each country is represented by an immigrant population, so the "country" of those without a country must surely be mirrored here. In addition, there are an unknown number of people born in the US who are not registered at birth. High risk groups include indigenous Americans and populations with a high rate of home birth, for example, certain religious groups.

I am friends with several stateless people in the United States. It's not easy to find stateless people, as many do not know they are stateless and many more are afraid to telegraph their status. Stateless Americans have much in common with the undocumented community, but the situation of stateless Americans is also unique. Many have no pathway to a solution in the US, but stateless Americans also cannot be deported to any country. They are truly in limbo, among the most vulnerable groups.

One of my stateless friends is on DACA, but she tells me it took her ages to apply, as she was told over and over again by immigration attorneys that she does not qualify. I suspect this is probably the case for many stateless Americans brought to the US as children.

Cory Booker's office has started an admirable project on the social media site Medium, highlighting DREAMers and those on DACA. But this open letter urges his office to focus also on the particular issues facing stateless Americans who qualify for DACA. It is also vital to start planning now for how the DREAM Act, when passed (and I say "when" because I believe it will be high on the post-Trump agenda, whichever Democrat gets elected) will affect stateless people and their particular needs.

If you are a stateless American brought to the US as a child, I urge you to get in touch with Cory Booker's office and press them to cover your story.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The European Union Endorses the Enslavement of Migrants in Libya

What happens to workers from Africa who are physically blocked from getting to their jobs in Europe? A chilling CNN report details what happens to people who are unsuccessful in their attempt to cross the Mediterranean and, as a result, have no money to pay for the cost of their voyage. Waste not, want not. Slavery, long a part of north Africa’s history, is the only future for many of the workers who cannot reach the under-the-table jobs in Europe’s capitals. Labor is valuable and many would-be migrants can’t pay back the cost of their transport, so they are sold at auction. Put up a barrier, block the movement of people, goods or capital, and entrepreneurs will find a way to make money anyways.

The European Union has created this situation with their policy of blocking their black and brown workforce, allowing in only a trickle of people, while the rest build up into a giant lake of unwanted labor behind Fortress Europe’s wall. As long as their are jobs in Europe, there will be migrants moving across the desert to fill them. As long as the Italian Navy blocks the boats, there will be destitute workers with no jobs and no way to pay off their smugglers in Libya.

In Another Blow for Migrant Rights, the US is Leaving Negotiations for a “Global Compact” on Migration

Those of us in refugee affairs have been following the development of the possible Global Compact on Migration, which it is hoped would facilitate global cooperation on the refugee and migration crisis. Today, the Trump administration announced it is leaving the process, essentially saying that whatever the rest of the world decides to do about the migration crises, the US will not be taking part in that decision. As Marc Goldberg at UN Dispatch points out, it’s a bizarre decision with no upside for the US, but will probably win Trump praise from immigration and anti-UN hardliners, for whom all international cooperation is a plot to undo US “sovereignty.” (Never mind that we are the biggest and richest country, and that as a result, we set most of the policy at these things.)

Goldberg aptly compares our decision to leave the negotiations over the migration crisis to our decision to leave the Paris Accord. In both cases, it’s like our apartment building caught on fire, and our neighbors pounded on our door to get us to come down the stairwell with them, and we keep saying, “no thanks, we don’t believe in fire.”

Many hoped the negotiations currently underway to cooperate on migration and refugees would result in a binding agreement. Maybe the Trump administration is worried about that, too. Trump’s over the top reaction to the refugee deal between the US and Australia shows that he intends to cut all immigration, no matter how tiny, no matter how humanitarian, no matter how much our allies and neighbors desperately need our help, including the resettlement of refugees, in an attempt to “wall” the US off from the rest of the world.

The problem, of course, is that immigration enforcement is hugely expensive, often doesn’t work, and simply leads to the destabilizing of important allies and neighbors. The world exists. It is not “fake news.” Take a look at the strain Lebanon is now under as a result of the huge influx of Syrian refugees. Lebanon is one of our most important allies in the Middle East. Where is this going?
It’s very typical of Americans to ignore the rest of the world — we have spasms of isolationism every few decades. But if you go on ignoring a fire in your apartment building, like ignoring climate change or the refugee crisis, you’re going to start feeling pretty warm sooner, rather than later. One day you might look up from tweeting and realize that all of your neighbors have exited the building with out you, and the fire is now at your door.

The Supreme Court Allows the Travel Ban to Go Forward: Because Setting Immigration Policy is Part of what the Government is Supposed to Do

Donald Trump ran for President of the United States as an immigration hardliner. He promised his supporters he would crack down on all types of immigration to the fullest extent of the law. Immigration is almost entirely within the purview of the federal government, so promising to crack down in immigration is actually something the President of the United States can promise.
Nevertheless, during the election, multiple people said that a Trump Presidency would not change the status quo very much because of “checks and balances.”

With Republicans in charge of congress, by “checks and balances, they meant that the courts would provide a check on Trump’s most extreme impulses. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding about what the courts are supposed to do.

Most importantly, it shows a dangerous misunderstanding of what the Supreme Court does: settle disputes between Federal Appellate Courts and interpret the Constitution. It is not the Supreme Court’s job to declare a President’s policy to be too extreme or too radical, it’s job is to adjudicate whether or not the Constitution of the prohibits the President from enacting that policy. And the President’s powers on immigration under the Constitution and under Federal law are sweeping.
Today, the Supreme Court temporary upheld Trump’s revised travel ban while the legal challenges against it proceed in the lower courts (read the decision here.) This does not mean that the ban will not be overturned as unconstitutional once the two cases against it reach the Supreme Court, merely that the President is given deference to enact laws under the powers which he has been granted by the Constitution until the courts have had an opportunity to weigh the issue. The Constitutionality of the travel ban is very much unclear, but I personally believe it is probably Constitution. The President has broad powers to restrict immigration.

Trump was hired by American voters to do a job: limit immigration, particularly from Muslim countries, and this is what his travel ban is trying to accomplish. I strenuously disagree with the travel ban. I think it is a moral and political abomination. But we all knew what the stakes were in this election. Voting matters — if you are a US citizen, your vote in 2018 will be the much-needed check on the President’s powers.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

October 2017 Statelessness Roundup

Here is an non-exhaustive list of some of the biggest developments on the topic of statelessness and nationality from around the world:

Malaysia
The Malaysian press continues their extensive coverage of the issue of birth registration, including on the introduction of a late fee for registration. See article here.

Bangladesh/Myanmar
Excom side-event on Rohingya refugees. Also, there have been a bunch of articles on problems with and controversy over repatriation/returns and indications that Guterres may make a major push to resolve the crisis.

Vietnam
Cambodia appears poised to revoke the citizenship of ethnic Vietnamese persons living in Cambodia, according to this story.

Syria and Iraq
The enormous problem of stateless children stemming from the wars in Iraq and Syria continues. This article is about potential statelessness amongst the children of ISIS fighters.

USA
The "Nowhere People" exhibit comes to Chicago.

Also, further analysis of recent Supreme Court decision on nationality law.

Bahrain
Deprivation of citizenship for persons accused of ties to Iran. Unrest in Bahrain continues due to tensions between the Shia majority and the government over alleged Iranian influence.

Americas generally
A recent article on the eradication of statelessness in the Americas.

West Africa generally
UNHCR has issued its latest newsletter on statelessness in W. Africa and the Banjul Action Plan. It notes that Burkina Faso has now acceded to the 1961 Convention.

Europe generally
UNHCR has unveiled its determination procedures for stateless persons in detention. Also, ENS highlights the high cost of nationality in Britain, an issue that resonates in many countries.

General
ISI has released guidelines on statelessness for development actors.

A new paper has been published in Tilburg Law Review on stateless indigenous peoples.

Monday, October 2, 2017

et tu, Facebook? Just Like in the Real World, Refugees find only Persecution and Silencing on Social Media

Facebook was created as a place where ordinary people who are divided by space and place can network together online, finding like-minded communities and reaching out to one another. It was supposed to be beautiful, man. And it is, sometimes. Just not if you're a refugee. If you're a refugee, Facebook has turned into yet another place you can go for censorship and abuse. Because nothing amplifies persecution like having it spread all over social media.

Refugees and immigrants had a terrible year. Globally, protection spaces are shrinking and hostility is rising across the world as more and more people need assistance and a safe place to live. Social media was supposed to help vulnerable people like refugees find one another, link up into networks and access information about services. At least, that seemed to be a realistic goal for social media as a tool for social activism. The reality is that nation-states with axes to grind against individuals can now use social media as a tool to extend the long arm of persecution around the world, as long as the price is right.

At the same time that Facebook is testifying before the US Congress about selling divisive, racist, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee ads in the US, Rohingya activists have argued that Facebook is censoring groups trying to document violence in the Rakine state for "violating community standards." It is unclear what Facebook means by this phrase.

Apparently, Facebook's policy is to promote content that earns money for Facebook and remove content that does not. As refugees usually don't have a lot of money and can't fake-generate a lot of fake-"likes" to drive advertising, this means that the Facebook world is starting to look more and more like the real world for refugees: a place where refugee voices are silenced. Money talks, and persecutors, not victims, usually have all the money.