us zero-tolerance immigration policy

On June 20, President Donald Trump reversed his administration’s policy of separating families seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border after insisting he had “no choice” but to separate children from their parents.

This came after wide condemnation from weeks of heart-wrenching images — children crying hysterically at being taken from their parents’ arms, horrified parents told their children were being taken for a bath only to learn they wouldn’t be coming back, toddlers snatched from their parents and shipped across the country to “tender age” detention centers.

According to Trump’s executive order, instead of detaining children separately, the U.S. will now imprison them with their parents, perhaps indefinitely, for the misdemeanor of crossing the border illegally (even though it is legal to claim asylum at the border, as many of these families are trying to do).

A federal court settlement known as the Flores agreement prevents the government from jailing migrant children for more than 20 days. It is unclear what will happen to the children detained with their parents if the president’s executive order does not pass judicial muster.

Furthermore, the administration has no plans in place to reunite the more than 2,300 children already taken from their parents and staying in makeshift warehouses, such as the former Texas Walmart that is now a detention center where children live in chained-link cages or “tender age” shelters sprinkled around the country, including in Grand Rapids, that the media have been barred from entering.

Trump said his administration’s zero-tolerance policy, which the attorney general announced in April, will continue.


A bipartisan group of 75 former U.S. attorneys wrote a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, calling on him to end the policy. The letter reads in part, “Your zero-tolerance policy has resulted in the unnecessary trauma and suffering of innocent children … We also emphasize that the zero-tolerance policy is a radical departure from previous Justice Department policy, and that it is dangerous, expensive and inconsistent with the values of the institution in which we served.”

The letter goes on to say, “As former U.S. attorneys, we know that none of these consequences nor the policy itself  is required by law.”

The United Nations Human Rights Office issued a statement on June 5 condemning the zero-tolerance policy as “arbitrary and unlawful” and a “serious violation” of the rights of children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also condemned the policy, saying that “highly stressful experiences, like family separation, can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child’s brain architecture and affecting his or her short- and long-term health. This type of prolonged exposure to serious stress — known as toxic stress — can carry lifelong consequences for children.”

According to Dr. Collen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the separation of children from their parents is a “form of child abuse.”


Twenty-seven Jewish organizations, including those in the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform branches of Judaism, spoke out against the policy, calling it “unconscionable,” in a letter to the president.

According to the letter, “As Jews, we understand the plight of being an immigrant fleeing violence and oppression. We believe that the United States is a nation of immigrants and how we treat the stranger reflects on the moral values and ideals of this nation.

“Our Jewish faith demands of us concern for the stranger in our midst. Our own people’s history as ‘strangers’ reminds us of the many struggles faced by immigrants today and compels our commitment to an immigration system in this country that is compassionate and just. We urge you to immediately rescind the zero-tolerance policy and uphold the values of family unity and justice on which our nation was built.”

Detroit’s Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC spoke out against the policy as well. “As a people who spent so much of our history wandering between lands, denied the rights of citizenship and the protections of government, the Jewish people have a unique understanding and insight into those who are fleeing from violence and persecution,” said JCRC/AJC President Alicia Chandler.

“When we see injustice, our tradition implores us to protect the widow, the orphan and the stranger. The current zero-tolerance border enforcement policy is a violation of our moral code.”

The Jewish News agrees with a statement put out by the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies that “victims of persecution and violence deserve no less than a humane system that respects the basic tenets of the rule of law” and urges the U.S. government to “ensure humane treatment at the border; help children separated from their parents due to immigration enforcement; and provide legal representation to ensure unaccompanied children have a full and fair opportunity to make their cases and access legal protection.”

We realize the challenges created by illegal immigration in the United States are real and complex, and an overhaul of U.S. immigration law by Congress is long overdue. The eventual solution, however, must align with the longstanding American value of compassion and our country’s proud history of being a welcoming land of opportunity.

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