Revisiting ‘zero tolerance’ was inevitable. Still, the debate keeps immigration alive for the midterms.
What’s the point of having immigration laws if the government doesn’t enforce them?
Presumably, that was the thinking behind the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for prosecuting parents who enter the country illegally with their children. Yes, large majorities of Democrats and Republicans continue to view immigrants as a net positive for the country. But the president speaks for more Americans than his critics want to acknowledge when he expresses deep frustration with people who flout immigration laws.
Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security, calmly explained to a reporter last month that family separation policies are widespread and commonplace. “We do it every day in every part of the country,” she told National Public Radio. “In the U.S. we call that law enforcement. We call that protecting our communities and our children.” Ms. Nielsen is correct, of course, though you might have missed the news story buried on page A14 of the New York Times supporting her contention.
“Advocates for criminal justice reform have argued that Americans appalled at the treatment of immigrant families at the border should realize that prosecutors and the police routinely separate children from their parents,” wrote the Times. “It happens when parents or children are arrested, it happens when incarcerated women give birth—it can even be triggered when a pregnant woman fails a mandatory drug test, or when a child skips school.” The administration has been getting pounded by the press for a law-enforcement policy that is both rational and widespread. And you wonder why President Trump won’t give up tweeting?
Logic and reason were never going to compete with those heart-wrenching images of sobbing little children that have flooded cable news and social media, so it was inevitable that the White House would have to revisit the “zero tolerance” approach to deterring illegal immigration. Don’t believe for a second, however, that Mr. Trump has any regrets. The whole idea was to keep the immigration issue alive in the run-up to the November midterm elections, and it succeeded. The White House is looking for ways to get Trump voters to the polls even though the president isn’t on the ballot, and talking about illegal immigration has never failed to scare up the base.
The president’s critics, for their part, are determined to take the low road to November. Rep. Maxine Waters of California nicely summed up the strategy at a rally in Los Angeles on Saturday, when she called on her fellow Democrats to harass administration officials at department stores and restaurants and gas stations. “You tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere,” said the congresswoman.
Shaming the president and his supporters didn’t work out too well for Hillary Clinton in 2016, yet liberals are doubling down on the tactic and hoping for a different outcome in the fall. We’ll see, but on issues like immigration and trade, Mr. Trump has done nothing more than try to fulfill his political promises. He is an unabashed immigration hard-liner who campaigned as one. You can call his border policies unnecessarily harsh and potentially counterproductive but by now they’re about as surprising to voters as this morning’s sunrise.
The administration said Monday that it has temporarily suspended prosecutions of illegal-immigrant adults caught with their children, which is good news for anyone who believes that separating families and caging children isn’t necessary to secure the border. Effective alternatives to detentions exist for people fleeing violence in their home countries, and the White House ought to consider them. Fatma Marouf, a law professor at Texas A&M, recently told Forbes magazine that some of the same methods used by law-enforcement agencies to monitor citizens on parole could be employed to ensure that more refugees seeking asylum actually show up for their scheduled court appearances.
In addition to doing a better job of keeping asylum seekers current about hearing dates and the consequences of noncompliance, Ms. Marouf said that “releasing people on bond or into electronic monitoring programs are alternatives.” Significantly cheaper alternatives, it turns out. Housing an individual in a detention facility can cost $180 a day, but a person can be monitored with a tracking device for just $8 a day. According to a Department of Homeland Security report released in November, nearly 100% of asylum seekers tracked electronically showed up for hearings and otherwise complied with their release conditions.
Why not expand what works? Limiting the movement of people using ankle bracelets and Global Positioning System devices is far from ideal, but it also would be temporary and for most people the lesser evil to endure while lawmakers in Washington continue to kick the can on immigration.
This piece originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal
Photo by Drew Angerer / Getty