‘Reason I canceled my trip to London,’ Donald Trump tweeted last month, ‘is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for “peanuts,” only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!’ The only fact he didn’t get wrong was the cost of the new US Embassy in Nine Elms. It looks like a billion dollars, too. From Vauxhall, the shiny green cube brings to mind an enormous pallet of dollars from a movie, but with a seemly swathe of translucent plastic skin on three sides. Up close, though, the skin stretches away from the glass uncomfortably, and the effect is more reminiscent of the piratical accountants’ building at the beginning of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.
According to US asylum law, women who have crossed the southern border and want to stay in the United States must prove ‘credible fear’ in an interview with an asylum officer. At the South Texas Family Residential Center, the largest detention facility in the US, I talked to thirty women about why they’d risked the perilous journey north. The word ‘credible’, it soon became clear, was mostly redundant.
‘We’re leaving,’ my Cuban friend N. told me in November. ‘We’re building a raft.’ I was shocked, partly because he planned to leave, partly because of the way he planned to do it. I consulted another friend, who’d spent several months in a coastguard team, hauling people out of the water when their rafts fell apart. ‘He’s mad,’ he said. ‘He mustn’t do it. Hardly any of them make it, it’s far too dangerous.’ I spoke to N. to try to dissuade him; he was unconvinced. He’d just had a phone call from Miami: a young neighbour had left a week or two before, the raft had reached the Everglades and some Miami-Cuban fisherman had spotted them and shown them where to land. They’d made it.