Breaking up families: the “zero tolerance” immigration policy
It’s hard to quantify the scale of the abuses committed on America’s southern border – but let’s be clear about one thing: it was a terrible crime, and is a lasting stain on this nation, said Jack Holmes in Esquire. Back in 2018, the Trump administration admitted that it had adopted a policy of separating […]

It’s hard to quantify the scale of the abuses committed on America’s southern border – but let’s be clear about one thing: it was a terrible crime, and is a lasting stain on this nation, said Jack Holmes in Esquire. Back in 2018, the Trump administration admitted that it had adopted a policy of separating migrant children from their parents, as part of its “zero tolerance” approach to illegal immigration. A judge ruled the policy illegal soon after, and ordered that the children of 2,800 families held in facilities be reunited with their parents – and they were. But now, the American Civil Liberties Union has revealed that 545 children, taken from their parents as part of a secret pilot scheme in 2017, remain with foster families or distant relatives in the US. Their parents were deported before the court order was made, and owing to poor record keeping, they can’t now be found.

The policy was wrong, said John Daniel Davidson in The Federalist, but this story is not as black and white as it is being painted. According to the Department of Homeland Security, it did in fact manage to trace many of the parents – but none wanted their child to be sent back to their countries of origin,most likely El Salvador, Honduras or Guatemala, places where “violence and poverty are rampant”. Many of them will have paid “exorbitant” fees to smugglers to take their children over the border. Their goal was to get them to the relative safety of America “by any means necessary” – “even if it meant being separated” from them.

Desperate people do desperate things, but these were still federally sanctioned “kidnappings”, said Krish Vignarajah in The Baltimore Sun. As the leader of a non-profit group that tries to reunite separated families, I know of too many traumatised children who were torn from their parents’ arms, and who go to bed each night not knowing where their parents are. In his defence, Trump likes to point out that it was Barack Obama who built “the cages”, said Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post. And it’s true Obama’s tough border policy involved incarcerating migrant families in warehouses. But that is not the same as introducing such a “deliberately cruel” policy as taking children from their parents – and then implementing it with such “callous sloppiness” that these children may never see their parents again. Five hundred and forty-five of them. “What if one of them were yours?”