July 10 2018
Ever since the Trump administration began implementing its new “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration, it has received immense backlash from the Republican and Democratic communities alike for its separation of children and parents at the border. On June 20, many Americans breathed a sigh of relief when President Trump signed an executive order ending the new separation of families (though it’s noteworthy that many of the already separated families have not yet been reunited). While the executive order halting further separation is a victory to many, the rest of the “zero tolerance” policy remains intact. So what else does this policy entail?
To put it simply, this policy aims to combat illegal entry with strict consequences. In Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s announcement of the policy he stated, “To those who wish to challenge the Trump Administration’s commitment to public safety, national security, and the rule of law, I warn you: illegally entering this country will not be rewarded, but will instead be met with the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice.”
Anyone who illegally crosses the border will now be sent to the Department of Justice to await possible criminal prosecution, and punishments will be more severe if it's a repeated attempt. Repeated attempts are considered felonies and can be met with up to two years in prison. This no-nonsense method seems to be efficient so far, considering there has already been an 18% drop in illegal border crosses from May to June. However, does that mean it’s ethical?
While previous policies considered first-time illegal immigration grounds for civil deportation, this policy prosecutes first time crossers, who could potentially face jail time. It could be considered inhumane to punish those who illegally enter the country when many of them are attempting to escape their violent home countries. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the top three countries illegal immigrants originated from in 2014 were Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala - all countries with extremely high crime rates. Honduras - a country known for having one of the highest murder rates in the world - comes in 5th with 400,000 immigrants.
For those seeking asylum from these countries, this policy makes the process even more difficult. According to an article published by the New York Times, those seeking asylum must now apply at border patrol checkpoints. This new requirement for asylum seekers has led to an overflow of applications at border points. Because of this, many immigrants have to wait at these locations for days on end. The Humans Rights First Organization reported that some immigrants are even being turned away completely. Additionally, the qualifications for asylum just became a lot more restrictive, with Session’s recent ruling stating that those fleeing domestic abuse or gang violence will most likely be denied.
This policy not only affects crossers, but also illegal immigrants who are currently residing in the United States. With Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids becoming more and more prevalent, families are now at an increased risk of being deported or prosecuted at any time. Undocumented immigrant families who use government benefit programs, such as food stamps, may also soon be at a greater risk of being denied citizenship. A proposal awaiting approval by the Trump administration would turn down these immigrants on the grounds that they are a “public charge.” A public charge is defined as an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government. This would overturn previous rules that specifically stated that the use of these programs could not affect citizenship.
Donald Trump believes that this policy is necessary in order to keep the dangers that plague other countries out of America, such as gangs and drug cartels. President Trump is very outspoken about stopping a specific gang called MS-13. This gang is known for the brutal murder and sexual assault of multiple Americans - many of whom were only teenagers. Some of the violent criminals who belong to the gang came to America as unaccompanied alien minors - what Trump has called a loophole to entering the country illegally. With horrific crimes committed in Los Angeles, New York, and Long Island - the three central U.S. locations for MS-13 members - the seriousness of MS-13 is indisputable. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they should be the face of illegal immigration.
One of Trump's many tweets that mention MS-13. Image: Twitter
MS-13 members make up just a small fraction of those attempting to enter the US illegally. Of the 31,039 illegal immigrants arrested in the 2017 fiscal year, only 228 were connected to MS-13. Even if MS-13 was as widespread as President Trump broadcasts, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Trump administration is going about the issue in the right way. While the surge of prosecutions could lead to deterring and discovering more gang members, the Trump administration’s holistic approach is risky. Unlike the immigration regulations under Barack Obama, Trump is not targeting violent aliens specifically. The current overwhelming number of court cases is already out of hand, so this lack of focus could end up doing more harm than good.
Overall, research shows that immigrants are not an extreme threat to the American people. According to an academic journal published by Taylor and Francis, “[research concludes that] immigration is consistently linked to decreases in violent (e.g., murder) and property (e.g., burglary) crime.” Multiple studies also show that illegal immigrants do not increase the violent crime rates in America. This shows that immigrants aren’t actually posing as much danger as the Trump administration advertises - so does this policy have any substantial gains to the American people?
Another issue with this policy is that it's very logistically difficult to implement. The Atlantic reported that the influx of criminal charges against immigrants has flooded the federal courts. The massive number of cases has led to Sessions hiring 35 new prosecutors near the borders. Though Sessions promised a “100%” prosecution rate of illegal immigrants, this goal cannot be met even with the increase of prosecutors. As previously mentioned, this policy doesn’t specifically target certain immigrants, meaning the decision of which immigrants will actually end up prosecuted is up in the air.
Regardless of political ideology, the “zero tolerance” policy raises a lot of logistical concerns. From overflowing courts, to painstaking asylum seeker hold ups, it appears that the “zero tolerance” policy is in over its head.
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