CHICAGO — An expert on domestic violence, the U.S. asylum system and detention policies, political scientist Kathleen Arnold is available to discuss the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border as well as the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
A faculty member at DePaul University, Arnold has written extensively on immigration policy, the detention of migrants, and domestic violence as a political issue. Arnold’s latest book, “Arendt, Agamben and the Issue of Hyper-Legality,” argues that U.S. immigration policy and detention cast foreigners as inherently criminal. She also is the author of “Why Don’t You Just Talk To Him? The Politics of Domestic Abuse” and “American Immigration After 1996: The Shifting Ground of Political Inclusion.” In this Q&A, Arnold analyzes recent events impacting migrants and asylum seekers.
Q: How could the Supreme Court’s ruling on a travel ban to the U.S. from seven countries — Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia Syria, Venezuela, Yemen — affect refugees from those and other countries?
A: The Supreme Court decision will continue the recent status quo in rejecting as refugees the people who need it most — particularly those fleeing genocide in Syria and violent oppression in the other countries. But it also commits symbolic violence in conflating the asylum system and ordinary immigration casting all as “illegals” and “invaders.”
Q: The policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexican border has been lifted for now, but the plan for reuniting families is not entirely clear. What rights do these separated migrants at the border have?
A: The recent drama of separating children from their parents and then suddenly ending this practice point to significant unresolved issues in the immigration and refugee system. The move to separate families is a eugenic tactic, but the continued practice of detaining entire families, which has been happening for years, is similarly problematic. The recent executive order doesn’t soften the harshness and traumatizing effects of the detention system and it is not what refugees and migrants deserve.
Q: Attorney General Jeff Sessions has argued that domestic violence is a private matter, not a political one that merits giving asylum to migrants. How does this position impact migrants?
A: My recent book exposes a number of fallacies about the immigration system. Appearing at the border is not a crime, particularly if the individuals who appear at the border are women and children who seek refuge in our country. Contrary to what Sessions has argued, these individuals are not just released after they utter a few words but most go directly to detention centers, where they are treated like prisoners but without the legal protections and rights offered in the prison system.
The recent move to block victims of gang violence and abuse victims from claiming asylum undoes years of work by lawyer groups and activists since at least the 1990s to open the asylum system to more modern issues. Stuck in a Cold War binary, the asylum system was not attuned to how gender, race or childhood status tie into political dynamics propelling people to flee their countries. Blocking these victims from applying contradicts the meaning of human rights in our refugee and asylum system.
There is an equally deeper loss in our refusal to recognize that gender-based assault may seem private but that it is significantly political in many ways — something that Americans can learn about not just to understand countries from which these women flee but our own issues with gender-based assault.
In order to defend his utterly cruel intervention in the pivotal domestic violence case “The Matter of A-B,” Jeff Sessions grossly misrepresented the asylum process and how asylum seekers are treated, as well as ignoring international protocol that holds that mere appearance at a country’s border is perfectly acceptable, particularly when the individual group has been forcibly displaced.
Kristin Claes Mathews