Why are families being separated at the US-Mexico border?

The images of children in cages, separated from their parents, at the US-Mexico border have upset people across the world. Part of a so called ‘zero-tolerance’ policy against ‘illegal’ migration, everyone crossing the border, even to apply for asylum, become subject of criminal prosecution. To facilitate this, almost 2000 children have been separated from their parents. But why is this happening now? What is being done to reunite the families? Who are the people trying to cross the border and what about their right to apply for asylum? To help answer these questions, we speak to Gabriella Sanchez, Research Fellow at the Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute.

Gabriella Sanchez has previously been interviewed in this podcast about migrant smuggling at the US-Mexico border.

Do states have the right to exclude immigrants?

Public and policy debates about immigration in most parts of the world are pursued on the assumption that states have the right to exclude immigrants, if they so wish, perhaps with the exception of refugees. The main questions are how states can manage migration – who and how many immigrants a state should let in. But do states really have this right, morally, to exclude others from settling on their territory? In his new book, Do States Have the Right to Exclude Immigrants?, Christopher Bertram, Professor in Social and Political Philosophy at the University of Bristol, argues that in most cases states do not have such a right. Instead, Bertram suggests, migration should be governed globally and states would have to justify to this global governance entity any restrictions they wanted to place on movement.

In this episode, Bertram discusses his book, its methodology and central argument. He has also developed some of these arguments here and a short summary here.

What does it mean to be in solidarity with refugees?

Many people express and urge others to stand in solidarity with refugees. In 2016, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke about the 65 million forcibly displaced in the world, addressing the UNHCR Executive Committee. He said: ‘The numbers are staggering. Each one represents a human life. But this is not a crisis of numbers. It is a crisis of solidarity.’

But, what does it mean to stand in solidarity with refugees? What precisely is a crisis of solidarity? What is one committed to when one expresses solidarity? This has been the topic of a project funded by the White Rose University Consortium, led by Kerri Woods, Lecturer in Political Theory at the University of Leeds, Alice Nah, Lecturer at the Centre for Applied Human Rights at the University of York, and the producer of this podcast, Clara Sandelind, Leverhulme Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield. You can read more about the project, ‘Understanding Solidarity Amid Refugee Crises’, here. Find out more about Kerri Woods’ work on solidarity and human rights, and Alice Nah’s work on refugees and human rights (pdf).

In this episode, we discuss some of the topics and conclusions drawn throughout this project, which are currently being collated and finalised for a Special Issue. This page will be updated when the Special Issue is published.