When Kamala Harris was in Guatemala earlier this week, she uttered a phrase that would sound eerily familiar to Australians.
“Don’t come, don’t come,” the US vice president said in remarks to Central American migrants considering crossing the land border to the United States.
“The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border.
“There are legal methods by which migration can and should take place,” Ms. Harris continued. “But we, as one of our priorities, will discourage illegal migration and I think if you come to our border you will be turned away.”
Ms Harris’ speech follows growing pressure from Republicans critical of the Biden administration and the recent surge in migrants heading for the US-Mexico border.
Australian analysts say there are striking similarities between the recent rhetoric surrounding US immigration and the ongoing debate in our own country over asylum seekers.
For many years, Australia has implemented a policy of refoulement of asylum seekers arriving by boat.
Labor reinstated offshore processing in 2012 amid increasing pressure from the Coalition on the numbers of asylum seekers arriving by boat.
After the Coalition took power the following year, asylum seekers who had not yet made the trip to Australia were warned in video messages featuring one of the country’s top military figures who ‘there was “no way” to come to Australia.
“You will not make Australia your home,” the post read.
For Regina Jefferies, an affiliate of the UNSW Kaldor Center for International Refugee Law, there were strong echoes in the vice president’s rhetoric with some of the messages from recent years in Australia.
“I think this is sort of an attempt by the Democrats to take a tougher tone that echoes the type of change [we’ve seen] in Australian politics as well, ”she told SBS News.
“Under the rhetoric of human trafficking and these other kinds of seemingly humanitarian efforts, what is really happening is that countries like Australia and the United States are targeting people who might move to escape. persecution or other serious harm. “
Ms Jefferies, who has spent more than a decade practicing asylum and refugee law in the United States, said there seemed to be similarities between the United States and Australia in the way that the conservative side of politics pushed the left on immigration.
“When I heard Vice President Harris say these things, my mind immediately turned to what happened in Australia in terms of domestic politics and the steps Labor was taking to follow the line more closely. of the LNP on migrant asylum seekers, ”she said.
“The calculation that it seems the Biden administration and Vice President Harris (did) … seems to be from the outside, very similar to the calculation the Labor Party made, you know, looking harsh on the claimants. ‘asylum and looking tough on this issue. “
Former Labor Minister Craig Emerson said the Labor Party’s stance on asylum seekers had never fundamentally changed and the party had always opposed people arriving by boat.
“There will never be a circumstance where the Australian people will just say, well, a lot of people should be able to come, seek asylum, be allowed in, and that constitutes our immigration program – it is not the point of view of the Australian people and it is not the point of view of the American people as a whole. “
But he agrees that in the United States and Australia, the debate is led by the right.
“The policy of people entering a country without permission always seems to go one way and it is in the conservative direction,” he told SBS News.
Bruce Wolpe, senior researcher at the US Center for Studies, also noted similarities between the US immigration debate and the rhetoric around asylum seekers in Australia.
“I mean, here [in Australia], any weakness [towards asylum seekers] is considered a defeat, ”he said, citing the example of the federal government’s position on the Tamil Biloela family.
“Republicans are making the same argument in the United States that if you open the door through a crack it will be open a mile and a half and you will have no control over immigration into the country.”
Mr Emerson agrees, saying Australia’s stance on immigration was dictated by One Nation.
“Where we are now is, I’m afraid, this policy of cruelty, and if a government can show how wicked and cruel it is, one way or another, this will be an excellent deterrent for an “armada of boats”, “he said.
The Coalition has long argued that its harsh policies “stopped the boats” and prevented asylum seekers from making the boat trip.
Mr Wolpe, who worked with Democrats in Congress during former President Barack Obama’s first term and as a staff member of former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard, believes Ms Harris’s message has been heard and that the numbers will slow down.
“We are dealing with an intangible number here, but I have to believe that the flow will be less than it would have been if nothing had been done,” he said.
“When they took office [there were] really terrible conditions at all levels. They have relaxed a little, so the question is, what will make it more consistent with human politics? This is what they are trying to do.
But Ms. Jefferies takes a different point of view, saying the Coalition’s policies have never really deterred asylum seekers in Australia, and neither will they for Central Americans fleeing to the United States.
“Australian policies have not really stopped people from fleeing persecution or seeking safety here. That’s right where they stopped them, ”she said.
“In the United States, it’s a little different because with a land border… it’s actually impossible to control all of that.
“But none of these policies, none of these rhetorics will stop people from fleeing persecution and evil, violence, whatever they are facing. There is so much evidence that these types of policies do not change someone’s opinion of whether to flee… and it is true for the current situation in Australia and it is also true in the United States- United.
For Wolpe, one of the most dismal aspects of the similarities between the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers by the two countries is the hyper-partisanship of the debate.
“You know, you put your head over the parapet and you say, ‘Well, I think we should let more legitimate asylum seekers into the country’, and there are people waiting for it. ‘other side to blow your head for saying it. ” he said.
“The shame is that it really seems like an unbridgeable political divide in the two countries right now – you’re either on one side or the other.
“We need better leadership to try to bridge this gap. There has to be a way for a consensus to develop on how we’re going to have immigration into the country without dividing either democracy right in the middle.