Travel has not always been inclusive of the entire world and you know, it would be nice to see that being a bigger conversation going on right now, as restrictions are lifted for some.
Hi, I'm Isabelle Roughol and this is Borderline.
Just this week, just yesterday in fact as I'm recording this, the US announced that they were finally lifting some of their travel restrictions and allowing Europeans especially, but in fact, people from 33 countries to enter the United States, as long as they are vaccinated.
I tweeted something to the tune of "yay, all foreign nationals allowed into the US at last," though only from November. And my guest today tweeted back: " All foreign nationals? Really? Not quite."
And she was absolutely right. So I invited her on the podcast to discuss this. So this is a 24 hours turnaround podcast on some breaking news for a change about the US travel restrictions, but also who gets to cross these US borders and what the future of international mobility might look like when it is conditioned on being vaccinated.
My guest is Anna Lekas Miller. She is an American journalist who's worked extensively in the Middle East and is covering immigration, so she is a regular listener as well as someone that I often bounce things off of on Twitter. So I'm so glad that she is with us today.
Hey, how's it going?
Good. How are you?
Great. Great. Uh, thank you for joining the podcast so last minute. It's not often we do breaking news over here. Let's talk about what's going on. So first what was just announced regarding, um, COVID related travel restrictions to enter the United States, which on the face of it, it's pretty good news, at least for, for a decent chunk of people. What was announced exactly?
So it was good news that was announced, which is that, um, now for people from countries who couldn't travel to the US because of COVID, now they're going to be able to travel to the United States. So, you know, if that means that a lot of, you know, families who have people in two different places or couples, maybe people who just started dating, because of course, sometimes it's easier to bring your husband or your wife somewhere, but then, you know, if you're just boyfriend and girlfriend, there's not as as many legal protections for you. So a lot of people who are in this situation are really happy right now.
I mean, huge shout out to the whole Love Is Not Tourism community. I think they were so just relentless in sharing their stories and raising their voices and making actual change. So there's going to be a lot of reunions for, for this policy. So that's really exciting to see.
Yeah. That's, it's one community that has been in my Twitter mentions like so much, you know. I've done one episode on this, but they've been, been insanely, insanely active. And so concretely, what this means is like people from the countries that were so far restricted from entering the US and actually I did the math, that's a lot of people, that's nearly half of the planet. Uh, it's over 3 billion people because you've got China and India, which obviously are large populations. And then pretty much all of Europe and the UK, and Brazil, and South Africa. So like large countries. So now they can come to the UK if they are fully vaccinated and can prove it. Um, and then they also need to take a test to come in.
To the US, not to the UK.
To the US! Did I say UK? I'm so used to saying it. To the US! Well, we can talk about UK restrictions, that's a whole other, that's a whole other stick.
Um, but the devil's in the details and I was actually, uh, looking at it before we started talking. And, um, actually details are really hard to come by because it's not been, um, you know, published officially. It's been briefed to the press right, but we don't have the actual details. And two things that are going to be a really tricky is, um, one is which vaccines are accepted, because yeah, in the us, you're not, you're not using all vaccines that exist in the world, right?
We're using Pfizer, Moderna and the Johnson and Johnson vaccine in the United States.
Right. So there was talk that AstraZeneca is probably going to accepted since the US and UK are so buddy buddy, uh, but the Chinese and the Russian vaccines, that's far less certain, right? And that's, that's what's being given out in a lot of the Global South.
Right. That's very, very uncertain. I mean, it's great that AstraZeneca is probably going to be accepted because that's also a very globally popular vaccine, um, that we haven't seen in the US but it's, it is concerning that the Chinese and the Russian vaccine haven't been mentioned at all, because for people who have those, they're probably a little out of luck.
Yeah. Yeah. And also, um, and that's where the UK was on my mind is that, uh, you know, we're having kind of a similar situation here where, you know, travel is opening up for people who are vaccinated. But even if you're vaccinated and even if you're vaccinated with an approved vaccine, then the question is where were you vaccinated? Because they don't necessarily trust the system, the proof that comes from India, comes from a number of African countries. So even if you did manage to get your hands on the vaccine, you could still be limited in your travel.
and a final thing that I haven't been able to track down, I'm curious if you've heard anything, is, okay so we're opening the doors to, you know, people who couldn't travel before to the US as long as they're vaccinated, but is, does the vaccine become a requirement for everyone, even people who come from countries that weren't, you know, barred before? And that's, you know, that's something I haven't seen answered anywhere: Can you come from a country that was fine until now, uh, without the vaccine, or are you essentially creating kind of a two tier system where if you don't have access to the vaccine, and obviously that's a major hurdle in a lot of the Global South, you're simply not welcome in the United States?
I mean, that's a really interesting question. What I have seen with US immigration policies is now that having a double vaccine is going to be required for immigration applications,so that's obviously visas as well, which, you know, right now also visas have been sort of waylaid as COVID has, you know, restricted travel and stuff.
So it's also been quite unclear, you know, whether or not people can apply for visas who would have needed visas beforehand. As far as if people are going to be able to go to the US without vaccines, I don't think that's the case because I think it's going to be, you know, if you didn't need a visa, I think you're going to need to show your vaccine certificate. And if you did need a visa, I think you're going to need to prove that you're double jabbed to even get the visa application through. So I do think that there's going to be some problems if you know, people from countries that haven't had access to the vaccine yet, aren't gonna be able to prove that.
So I do think that while we're sort of normalizing travel again and normalizing, you know, what it means to move through the world, we have to also be talking about making sure that everyone has access to the vaccine and making that a less nationalistic discussion and a more global discussion. Because of course this was not a national pandemic, it was a global pandemic. So it needs to be a global solution as well.
Yeah. I mean, that's been kind of the, the theme from the beginning, right? A lot of talking about grand principles of collaboration, but in practice, you know, you now have countries hoarding vaccines for a third dose, a booster shot, while so much of the world hasn't had even the first. And there is, there is kind of a, an extra bit of cynicism to hoarding the vaccine away from countries and then telling them well, since you're not vaccinated, here are all the things you can't do. And by the way, if you can get vaccinated, we don't trust your system anyway. So, uh, yeah, I could see how this isn't necessarily great news for everyone
Absolutely. I mean, only 4% of the African continent is vaccinated. So you see these cases such as, you know, the UN climate talks are happening soon. And then, you know, you have people from some of the most affected by climate change countries who are afraid to go because they haven't been vaccinated yet and have a very real threat of like picking up the Delta variant while they're on their way or something like that.
So it's really, there are definitely a lot of very real kinks to be ironed out to really make this inclusive of the entire world. But again, as we've been saying, travel has not always been inclusive of the entire world and you know, it would be nice to see that being a bigger conversation going on right now, as restrictions are lifted for some.
Hmm. Yeah, I was thinking about that the other night, in one of my sleepless, three in the morning "hey, I have an idea. I should write about this," but I feel like it's such a missed opportunity, even just in terms of political communications, if you look at something like COP 26 in Glasgow, I mean, imagine the UK government figuring out a system to the vaccine to every attendee, every delegate from every country and their community. I mean, talk about vaccine diplomacy, right? That, I mean that, the headlines just write themselves, right? That just, it seems didn't occur to them. Um, which, which is a shame.
That would be a fantastic solution. I mean, it seems like they, you know, want to vaccinate people when they come, but, but then you know that of course you have to have the amount of weeks between jabs of AstraZeneca and all these things. It doesn't actually work in practice. Like once again, these things are long-term and they require planning and you have to think them through.
And it's truly a sign of people taking this access for granted and stuff. We're all thinking, "oh, you know, we've been vaccinated, we're fine," but so many countries are still in this phase of like, "okay, I have one jab, but I have to wait. I'm not quite safe," et cetera, et cetera. So it requires people to open their minds a little bit and just be able to put themselves in someone else's shoes that were their own not so long ago.
Um, which is something that we've seen kind of lacking a lot, same with issue with, transnational families all these months. You have a lot of people who are in decision-making positions who are not immigrants, are not in a position of having loved ones abroad. And so they keep referring to travelers as holidaymakers and, and just not understanding that very reality, right.
is your reality. So that's, that's a nice segue into telling us a little bit about, about you and who you are and what got you interested in all these topics.
Yeah, absolutely. It is my reality to some extent, though not in the COVID sense, in a much longer term sense. I'm an American journalist and my husband's from Syria. So, we've been together for years and years and years now, but, um, we met in Istanbul. We met abroad. Um, he, of course, if you're from the Middle East, for those who don't know, it can be very complicated to get a visa to the United States. And I mean, that was the case before the Muslim ban. And of course the Muslim ban made that a lot harder.
Can you remind the audience just what the Muslim ban is since not everyone's American?
It's the bane of my existence. The Muslim ban is a ban put forth by former president Donald Trump, that basically banned travel from a number of Muslim majority nations, which of course put couples and families completely, um just split, split them apart for, for years and years on end in certain cases. And you know, I know so many lawyers who have been fighting for these people to reunite over the past couple of years. And there are still some people who are having their paperwork processed to this day.
So one of the things that I sort of saw with COVID was I felt like, you know, and this was naive of me, but I felt like this was an opportunity for people to understand what was going on, what it's like to be kind of from an immigrant family, what it's like to be in love with someone from another country and to have to wait to be together or to have to go to a third country to be together or to be told no, and have to be patient.
And I thought that that might build some solidarity across these lines. And, um, I'm not really sure that it has, um, which sort of breaks my heart a little bit. I could be wrong. I would love to be proven wrong. I really hope that even the Love Is Not Tourism community sort of, you know, after they have their reunifications, that they are then fighting for the undocumented immigrants in the Us and, um, people who've had their spouses deported, people who were separated by the Muslim ban... because these things have a way of keeping happening. There will always be someone who loves someone who isn't in the same place and it's not as easy as just buying a plane ticket to be in the same place. It's, it's much harder and until you're kind of in that situation, it's, it's impossible to imagine the frustration of experiencing that.
Um, I think it has in a way. I mean, as always, you know, it's hard to know what will last in the long-term right, but I think it has opened the eyes to, you know, more privileged immigrants such as myself for whom travel was never limited really, that all of a sudden, even just crossing the Channel to see my family was something that I could not do for a while. And that was really, it was really hard. Um, and I had on this podcast a woman who is an immigrant here from Iran, and she had been battling the Home Office for the last 10 years for her mom to get a visa, just a visit visa, and yet she was saying. You know, in a way, at least the pandemic has opened people's eyes to what it's like to want to go somewhere and not be allowed for reasons that make no, no sense.
I think the thing that strikes me as so interesting is, especially in sort of the border abolition communities and stuff, we talk a lot about open borders and what that kind of a world would be like. But for, for people like you and me, I mean, you have a French passport, I have an American passport, as far as travel is concerned, you kind of do have open borders more or less. Maybe not for immigration, maybe not for like living and working somewhere, but for travel, we can basically go more or less wherever we want, which is just, it's just not the way that so much of people from, for the sake of generalization the so-called Global South, live their lives.
I mean, even to travel to a place where you need a visa, you have to justify your trip in so many ways. You have to have so many letters, a really good excuse to have to go like going to a conference, being invited by a university, and this is of course a sign of someone being quite elite and quite established and stuff as well, and then goes into a whole argument of like, who's the good immigrant, who's the bad immigrant, et cetera, et cetera.
I think that you know, we had a taste of sort of just that frustration of why can't someone just go to France because they feel like it, go to America because they feel like it the way so much of the world has? And of course , that desire to go somewhere because you feel like it is so much worse when you have loved ones there, when you have someone that you're trying to date and explore a relationship with, or when you have a parent or family member, and it's incredibly frustrating.
you called me out absolutely rightly, on Twitter yesterday, when I posted about, all foreign nationals can, can go to the US now, as long as they're vaccinated. Well, no, actually. Yes, in theory, if you're vaccinated, you can go, but then there's all these layers of things that are blocking a lot of people from, from going to the US.
Absolutely. , I wish all foreign nationals could go to the US if they had their vaccine card. Oh, that would be fantastic. I would be buying a plane ticket with my husband right now. Um, but you know, people like my husband are going to have to apply for a visa still. We're still waiting to see if that starting again as some of that has been sort of postponed by COVID.
So it is one of those things, as you said earlier, the devil is in the details and there are a lot of, you know, Us citizens who would love a fiance visa or a spouse visa for their spouse, who would love to have that information of, you know, whether they can take that next step in their relationship right now.
Yeah. So besides the pandemic is just the fact that a lot of people need visas to go to the United States and that those visas are not easy to get. I mean, you know, the reason why you even see people crossing the border quote unquote illegally, and I say that in major quotes, is because they would love to come legally accept that is either not possible or it's just so difficult that for all intents and purposes, it is impossible.
I mean, you see there's more than 10,000 Haitian citizens at the US Mexico border right now and who are fleeing natural disaster, gang violence, um, so many different things, who are being put on deportation flights, turned away. I mean, you see so many people who are trying to get into the United States only to be told no.
And I mean, you mentioned that the United States has always been a nation of immigrants and absolutely it has, but I think that, you know, one of the best arguments I've read about this is from Harsha Walia's book, Border and Rule, where she says that, you know, yes, we're talking about a nation of immigrants, but we also have to remember that it's also founded on white supremacy, it's founded on genocide of indigenous peoples who were on the land, and then of course built by kidnapping and enslaving people from Africa. And then though that mentality, that very white supremacist mentality quickly became enshrined in immigration law through legislation such as the Johnson Reed Act in 1924, which very explicitly said that it was favoring immigrants from Western Europe and then limiting immigration for Southern Europeans and also people from Asia, Africa. So, and it was very much, you know, it wasn't a conspiracy that that was racially motivated. It was informed by proud eugenicists who were lobbying Congress at the time. So that was sort of, you know, one of the first, very major and sweeping cases of immigration law being used to decide who should and who shouldn't have access to have a life in the United States.
And since then, if you look at the history, you can really see it doing that again and again, throughout the years. I mean, you had the Bracero program during world war II in 1942, which basically brought a lot of Mexican laborers to the United States to fill agricultural positions. And then 12 years later, they were all deported because they decided they didn't want them there anymore. And of course they started families and had communities and had started lives there. So it's really been used as a tool to control the types of people that are in the United States for, you know, about the past century.
that's both controlling who comes in in terms of who gets to enter the United States through a border, whether that's a proper border or an airport. And also in terms of immigration enforcement, in terms of who is criminalized as an immigrant for the purposes of deportation and again, sort of curating who is and is not in the United States.
So who is targeted for deportation? I think it's definitely, um, racialized people who are more likely to be targeted for enforcement.
It is absolutely racialized. I mean, if you look at the statistics, yes you know, people from around the world are targeted for deportation in the way that we are a nation of immigrants, so you're going to see every country listed there. But the highest population of immigrants in the United States is Mexicans, it always has been and so, you know, if you look at the pure numbers, yes, a lot of Mexicans are targeted for deportation. By and large men. I think it's something like 94% men. So it's a very kind of criminalizing brown men sort of enforcement policy. But another thing that is super telling when you think about police and criminalization in the United States is how many black immigrants are also criminalized and targeted compared to the fact that, I mean only 7% of the immigrant population in the United States are Black, and that would be people from typically from the Caribbean or from African countries, except 20% of the immigrant detainees who are being processed for deportation are Black. So that again goes to show how, you know, police are criminalizing people and how especially as probably a young black man in the United States, enduring that kind of police brutality and suspicion, so it's not only just being criminalized and put in jail in the case of someone who's an immigrant is being criminalized and put in jail and then processed for deportation.
We'll be right back.
this is Isabelle. It's time I tell you a little bit more about me and why Borderline exists.
See in January, 2020, I quit this job that was making me really happy for a long time, but I was looking for something different and for a bit of a rest to be honest. Now, 2020 we know was a challenging year and it pushed a lot of us to think about, okay, what's meaningful to us? What do we really want to do with the limited time we have on Earth? And for me, I've always loved talking to people and telling stories and exploring ideas, complicated, nuanced ideas that often don't get a lot of airtime in our sort of constant breaking news media world.
And the stories that are really meaningful to me are stories about where we belong, what is home and how do we connect with people who come from very different places, but actually have quite similar human experiences.
So that's kind of what goes into Borderline. If it's meaningful to you too and you want to support work that builds bridges among people, whether they live within five miles of where they were born, or they've crossed the world 10 times over, you can become a member of Borderline and help this work continue to exist. Go to borderlinepod.com/subscribe and join us and there'll be access for you to a Discord community where we interact. There'll be access to this podcast early, without these annoying ads, and just a lot more community as well as the joy for you and certainly for me of supporting this work, of becoming an early founding member of Borderline and helping it continue. I hope this is as meaningful to you as it is to me. And thank you again for listening..
And now let's get back to our episode.
there was a lot of hope placed on the Biden election, by pro immigration, pro immigrant people, because obviously, the Trump administration was uh, pretty aggressive at least in its rhetoric, as well as in its action with things like the Muslim ban. So, what did the Biden presidency promise on immigration and has it delivered so far? And what is the mood like, both in terms of rhetoric and in terms of policy, when it comes to immigration in the US today?
Yeah, I would say that, um, I know a lot of people who were really excited to see Biden be president, myself being one of them, not so much because what he promised was so out of the ordinary, but because we had just been like used and abused by Trump so much that the thought of someone overturning the Muslim ban and starting a task force to reunite families and doing stuff that is pretty basic
when you think about protecting citizens, just felt like the angels had come or something like that. And then, um, you know, as time went on, it did become really clear that in some ways it was more of the same. He overturned the Muslim ban. That was great. But, um, you know, you see what's happening at the border right now. He hasn't fixed all of Trump's mistakes.
I was recently in Juarez during a reporting trip. And there was so many people in the migrant shelters who are still there because of the Remain in Mexico policy, but also have been deported under Title 42, which is a policy that was put in place as a public health measure for the pandemic. That basically meant that, someone seeking asylum in the US could be deported to stop the spread of COVID and would have to then postpone when they seek asylum. So, right now, Biden's administration is defending this policy in court because they're trying to use it to deport the Haitians that are coming to the border right now.
So that's something I was thinking today. Just feels particularly rich, given that for didn't need visas before to come to the US, the people who had just come on planes or what have you, typically from wealthy European countries, although some other countries as well, these restrictions are now being lifted because the pandemic is a lot better. But then he's still manipulating the pandemic to control immigration for the type of people he doesn't want in terms of this being asylum seekers from the Global South, in this case Haiti, but who knows where it will be from tomorrow.
And in fact, land borders, they're closed, both with Canada and Mexico. Canada has reopened it to Americans crossing, but the reverse isn't true, for non-essential travel, which is essentially apparently pretty much all travel. But it seems like the US is mainly, uh, they've just renewed, sorry, they've just renewed for another month, they review every month. It's getting harder and harder to justify from a pandemic perspective, right? Especially when you're allowing air travel, but somehow arguing that crossing in a private car is, is more dangerous public health wise. I, I don't understand that bit. But it seems like it's, it's mainly used to, as an excuse to close to Southern border.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I walked across the Southern border myself. There in one day, back in the same day. And it just strikes because as a US citizen, I could do that cause I could go to Mexico and then I could come back. No one stamped my passport or anything. And the thing I was thinking the entire time I was walking along the bridge was like, okay, as if Us citizens can't catch and spread the disease.
Like, you know, of course I was double vaccinated and everything. I wouldn't have been traveling if I hadn't been, but, um, it just felt so obvious in how it was being used as an excuse to keep the border closed in a place where having the border open is super important to the economy. It's super important in terms of people keeping up with friends and family. In a place where, um, you know, two cities are basically a 20 minute drive away from each other. Plenty of people have a community on both sides of the border that's been essentially shut off for so long. So it just really struck me as an absolutely absurd turn of logic.
And Remain in Mexico, which you mentioned before, it's this policy to force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their asylum application is being processed. Is that correct? So that's kind of disincentivizing people coming to the US because they don't get to live in the US while they wait.
Yes. And part of what's so problematic about it as well is that, you know, a lot of these places along the border are quite dangerous and there's a lot of organized crime. There's a lot of just the same types of things that, um, people coming from countries like Honduras and Guatemala have fled already. So people feel in danger while they're waiting. It just shows that the US government really does not care about protecting these people that are, you know, asking for protection because it's something that they need and have a legal right to.
Um, and Kamala Harris, I think it's when she was in Guatemala a few months ago, had some, had some pretty harsh words.
I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border, do not come, do not come. If you come to our border, you will be turned back.
She went to Guatemala and basically said, don't come, it's not safe, pointing out all the myriad ways that smugglers, coyotes as they're called there, can rip people off and commit crimes. Yeah.
Which is all true to be fair.
It's completely true, but you can't say don't come and not give people a legal alternative of how to come, because especially in some of those countries and some of those situations, they're still going to risk the danger.
You just have to look at you know, even just the past five years of migration history around the world, and you can see the incredible amount of danger that people will risk to leave their, leave their homeland when they're feeling under stress.
The Biden administration has proposed policies to work in the countries of origin of migrants to improve situations, to kind of give people reasons to stay, rather than flee. Does that work? Is that enough? Um, you know, how do you think about those particular policies?
I mean, I think if it actually had that effect. Yeah, it would work, but I mean, that's, that's going to take a lot of time. It's not just saying like, I'm going to make the situation better in Honduras. Like it's what does that look like? How do you do that? How do you implement that? There's such a force of reasons that are pushing people to migrate, from gang violence, political persecution, climate change. Are you going to solve all of those at once? Um, you know, so I think that that would be absolutely fantastic in theory, but it's really difficult in practice.
so how are you about the next few years? You know, have the last couple of years kind of taught us something about the value of mobility that we're going to suddenly be more thoughtful and generous in opening our doors?
Are we all terrified of viruses and foreigners? Are we're going to hide behind our walls? Um, which, which way does this go?
Yeah. Um, I mean, I really hope that kind of everyone who's been affected by US immigration policies does sort of have the experience of people who are kind of in that Love Is Not Tourism community and that this is something temporary and that they're, you know, able to reunite with their loved ones. They're able to go to the US and be in the US and have that experience, whatever that means to them. But, I do see that while groups like Love Is Not Tourism are picked up by the media and then get to influence policymakers, there's lots and lots of other people who are being affected by these policies who are being ignored.
I mean, I talked to a young woman the other day. She came to the US when she was two years old from Mexico. And she hasn't had a relationship with her grandparents or her extended family her entire life that she can remember because they've been in Mexico and she's been in the US and she's undocumented. So going to Mexico would mean that she can't come back.
And there's so many people who've been living this prolonged separation from their loved ones in this kind of a way that it's something that's quite normal for refugee and immigrant communities. And so I would really like to see the future of mobility being raising those voices and making sure that that becomes a thing of the past as well.
want to thank Anna Lekas Miller. She is a journalist covering immigration. She is also the author of an upcoming book with Algonquin Books, Love in the Time of Borders, covering a lot of the topics that we talked about today, her own story as an American citizen married to a Syrian citizen and trying to get her family together in the same country, as well as stories of a lot of other people who've experienced and encountered borders within their own love stories. She hasn't announced a release date yet, but she has an eponymous newsletter Love in the Time of Borders, which will give you updates on when everything is coming out and the rest of her work. The link will be in the show notes as well as on the website.
Some updates. The CDC has suggested that it will be pretty open as to what is considered an acceptable vaccine in the US. The, the list hasn't been announced yet, but the CDC said, you know, so far anything that's been approved by the World Health Organization is considered valid and not just those that are approved by the FDA and in use in the United States.
However, it does also seem quite clear now that it will be pretty much impossible to enter the United States without a vaccine. So there will very much be that division, that divide between people who can and people who cannot be vaccinated in terms of entering the United States. Of course, people who cannot be vaccinated in the Global South have many, many more obstacles to entering the United States or any other country of their choosing, as Anna reminded us today.
Thanks as always for listening. Please remember that you can support this podcast by becoming a member, get more content, join a community and support independent journalism. it's at borderlinepod.com/subscribe. Also make sure to sign up for the newsletter. It's entirely free.
I'm your host Isabelle Roughol. Music was by Ofshane. Borderline is a One Lane Bridge production. I'll talk to you next week.