All around us, borders are broken more often than they are enforced, but the political moment has nevertheless become about building new walls. Trump’s call for a wall at the US-Mexico border—however unrealistic and buffoonish it sounds on the stump—echos the frenzied cries in Europe’s borderlands to erect wire fences and shut the gates.
But the real divisions are being sown within borders, as society polarizes over collective anxieties about losing control over place and identity.
Trump’s border fantasies overlap uncomfortably with the savage reality of Obama’s present-day policies, as the administration plans to launch another deportation drive aimed at booting out Central American migrants. That move, advocates fear, will only send youth back to deadly environments of gang violence and sexual assault.
On the edges of Europe, the new strategy to choke off migration flows theoretically provides for a one-to-one migrant swap between Turkey and Europe while refugees are supposedly resettled incrementally on the continent.
Iverna McGowan of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office, described the policy as “pulling up the drawbridge on human beings fleeing war and terror.” Turkey’s migrant camps, operating as de facto prisons for asylum seekers, Amnesty states, “breach refugees’ human rights with impunity by illegally deporting people back to warzones.”
The populist backlash in both Europe and the United States is all the more stunning in light of the fact that despite border panic about a migrant “crisis,” both of these wealthy, powerful realms of the West shoulder just a tiny fraction of the global migrant burden.
Although the migration flows from Africa and the Middle East into Europe have intensified dramatically, the migrant “crisis,” in numeric terms, amounts to about 0.2 percent of the EU’s total population.
Meanwhile, net migration from Mexico into the United States has plateaued and border crossings aren’t dramatically rising, despite the Central American influx. Compared to relatively poor countries like Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, which have absorbed multitudes of refugees, the United States and the European Union have proven incredibly ungenerous to millions of the world’s most desperate individuals.