Giving Zero Tolerance a Bad Name

The issue of illegal immigration has reached a new low as overzealous law enforcement has resulted in nearly 2,000 children being torn from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The “zero tolerance” policy currently in place has led to the separation of children from their parents, who face criminal charges for attempting to enter the country illegally.

Between April 19 and May 31, 2018, according to figures supplied by the Department of Homeland Security, a total of 1,995 minors have been taken from their parents and placed in a variety of temporary holding arrangements, including government facilities, or released to adult sponsors or foster care. That number is increasing all the time.

The outcry against it has been heard from coast to coast and across party lines.

“It is critical that Congress fully understands how our nation’s laws are being implemented on the ground, especially when the well-being of young children is at stake,” Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) wrote in a letter to the secretaries of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.

Such a policy gives “zero tolerance” a bad name. For decades this was the watchword of a phenomenally successful crackdown on crime in New York and elsewhere that returned cities to their law-abiding inhabitants. Now the phrase has been expropriated to headline a policy that shows zero humanity and zero political sense as well.

Psychologists and sociologists have been recruited to condemn the practice as trauma-causing. Expert opinion here is utterly superfluous. You don’t need a degree in social science to understand that tearing parents and children apart is a heartless method of enforcing immigration law.

Nor does the law requires it. It is the current Justice Department that has seen fit to construe a 1997 legal agreement and a 2008 human trafficking bill as requiring the separation of families. The administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama did not take that position.

Given that there is latitude within the law to detain illegal migrants without breaking up their families, the government has a moral obligation to eschew the “zero tolerance” interpretation. Vigorous law enforcement must be tempered with consideration for the feelings of innocent victims, which these children certainly are.

The United States can and should enforce the immigration laws, but current policy borders on fanaticism. As such, it is also politically disastrous. No Democratic strategist could have more effectively conjured up a campaign that would threaten the Republican majority in Congress than the images of innocent children traumatized by government ruthlessness.

Democrats naturally seized on the issue on Sunday, Father’s Day, to lead inspections of detention facilities and to hold protest demonstrations. If the present trend continues, it will be Democrats, not Republicans, who will be known as the defenders of family values.

Senate candidate and Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke called the separations “inhumane.” “I’d like to say it’s un-American, but it’s happening right now in America. And it is on all of us, not just the Trump administration. This is on all of us,” he said on CNN.

Despite the onslaught of condemnation, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was expressly unapologetic:

“We will not apologize for the job we do or for the job law enforcement does for doing the job that the American people expect us to do,” she told the National Sheriffs’ Association on Monday.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway conceded to NBC that “nobody likes this policy … seeing babies ripped from their mothers’ arms.” But “if the Democrats are serious, they’ll come together again and try to close these loopholes and get real immigration reform.”

By contrast, former senior White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon had less trouble with his emotions, or anybody else’s. “I don’t think you have to justify it,” he told ABC News. “We have a crisis on the southern border. They are criminals when they come across illegally,” Bannon said.

He did not go so far as to say that he “liked” the policy, but it seemed clear that he will waste no tears over it.

But with or without apologies, the implementation of such a policy must stop. It’s a national disgrace, and claiming it as a legal necessity until new legislation can be passed won’t do.

Both parties realize that it’s wrong, and both parties must work together to quickly pass an immigration law that will solve the problem.