On Friday 13 July, 250,000 people with vibrant banners and costumes marched through central London to send a message to Donald Trump: that the US President, currently on an official visit to the UK, is not welcome here.
Among other targets, many marched against racism, xenophobia, and the anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies that have marked Trump’s presidency. We asked some about the parallels with anti-immigrant politics in UK.
“The worst thing is that every time you look to America smugly and think, shaking your head, that’s just terrible, the same stuff is going on here,” said one of the demonstrators.
Trump’s 2016 election campaign included the promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico. His 2017 ‘Muslim ban,’ barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, led to the immediate detention of 700 travellers and the withdrawal of 60,000 visas.
Recently, it surfaced that more than 2,300 parents and children have been separated from each other by US authorities at the US-Mexico border. Heartbreaking images of families torn apart and migrant children detained have been seen around the world.
These measures have sparked global outrage. But the UK government’s own track-record for brutal anti-immigrant policies is not so different – and it predates Trump’s presidency.
"The UK government’s own track-record for brutal anti-immigrant policies is not so different – and it predates Trump’s presidency."
In 2010, then Home Secretary (and current Prime Minister) Theresa May said the goal was “to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants.”
Home Office vans have driven around neighbourhoods carrying the intimidating message: 'Go home or face arrest’. The 2014 Immigration Act required the NHS, charities, banks and landlords to carry-out ID checks, turning ordinary people into proxy border patrol.
Protesters outside Yarl’s Wood detention centre, Bedfordshire 2015. Photo: Flickr/iDJ Photography. Some rights reserved. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.Like the US, the UK denies around half of all asylum applications. The UK is also the only country in the EU that detains migrants indefinitely. Earlier this year, prison inspectors found that torture survivors are among those being held in a privately-run detention centre near Heathrow.
Around 70% of women in the Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre have experienced sexual violence in their home country, while countless cases have emerged of sexual abuse within the detention centre at the hands of private security guards.
“The UK government also separates parents from their children for the purpose of immigration control by sending the parent into immigration detention,” said Celia Clarke, director of the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees, which advises parents in around 170 such cases a year.
This state-sanctioned backlash against migrant rights is transatlantic.