Trump’s Zero-Tolerance Policy Must Be Stopped

Trump’s Zero-Tolerance Policy Must Be Stopped June 19, 2018

As Donald Trump continues to ignore the ethical obligations the United States has to the rest of the world, including to those who seek asylum or a new way of life in the United States, Pope Francis made a clear and resounding statement that would-be immigrants to any nation should have their basic human rights protected. They need to be treated with compassion, no matter what their status is:

Finally, I would like to point out that the issue of migration is not simply one of numbers, but of persons, each with his or her own history, culture, feelings and aspirations… These persons, our brothers and sisters, need “ongoing protection”, independently of whatever migrant status they may have. Their fundamental rights and their dignity need to be protected and defended. Particular concern must be shown for migrant children and their families, those who are victims of human trafficking rings, and those displaced due to conflicts, natural disasters and persecution. All of them hope that we will have the courage to tear down the wall of “comfortable and silent complicity” that worsens their helplessness; they are waiting for us to show them concern, compassion and devotion.[1]

This flows not only from basic ethical obligations which humanistic philosophy can ascertain, but also from his Christian faith. Pope Francis knows that “The LORD watches over the sojourners, he upholds the widow and the fatherless; but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin” (Ps. 146:7 RSV). The Christian will have their heart open to others, loving God, but also loving their neighbors, honoring God if they treat others with such love.

Sadly, the United States shows itself at the crossroads. The way the United States treats would-be immigrants has been shameful for decades; there is no discounting that. But it has become worse. Children are being separated from their parents as they come to the border. Once separated, there is no plan to reunite children to their parents. Sadly, children have been abandoned by the state as they find their parents deported without them, making it nearly impossible for families to ever be restored.

In only six weeks time, nearly 2000 children have been separated from their parents. As the inhumanity continues, plans exist to abduct more children from their parents and put them into “tent cities.”  The effects of these policies, even if children are able to be reunited with their families, will be devastating; it should not be surprising that there will likely be lifelong mental health issues for these children as they have to live with and remember the horrors they faced in their youth.  Border Protection Agency detention centers are full of chain links, mattresses on the floor, and thermal blankets with little to no demonstration of human decency.

The reason for this is the new so-called “zero-tolerance” policy put into place by the Trump administration, making a legalistic instead of merciful and humanistic approach to would-be immigrants and asylum seekers. It is Trump’s policy, though Trump and others will try to gaslight the public and make it appear the Democrats are at fault when challenged. Stephen Miller, who is said to be the one behind the policy, has said it was a simple decision. This cannot be said enough: it is not a law, it is policy decision.  Being a policy decision of the current administration means it does not need Congress to fix it.   But it is clear, instead of trying to fix things, Trump and his administration want to double down through fearmongering and scapegoating, saying that as immigrants could be thieves and murderers the policy needs to stay in place, similar to the way all authoritarian societies justify their cruelty.

As a response, protests and marches are beginning to be seen across the nation.  Letter writing campaigns, both to secular leaders but also to religious authorities asking religious leader to help deal with the crisis, are also beginning to be seen across the nation.  The President of the USCCB, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, has already decreed the policy is immoral:  “Our government has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma. Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together.”[2] The Orthodox Union, an organization of Jews generally in agreement with Trump, has joined in with other Jewish organizations to denounce the policy:

The groups note that “many of these migrant families are seeking asylum in the United States to escape violence in Central America. Taking children away from their families is unconscionable. Such practices inflict unnecessary trauma on parents and children, many of whom have already suffered traumatic experiences. This added trauma negatively impacts physical and mental health, including increasing the risk of early death.” [3]

Likewise, Laura Bush, though supportive of the principle of border protection, understands the methodology being employed by Trump is cruel and unjust..   The rest of the living First Ladies, even Melania Trump, have followed suit and spoken out against the heat-breaking cruelty behind the current policy.

Do not expect the cries of the poor, the cries of the children, the cries of secular and religious leaders, even the cry of the current First Lady, to change things. Some like Bannon think that there will never be a need  to justify the Trump administration’s separation of children from parents; for them, it is an issue of power, where the ends justify the means (the ends of which, in this case, is as unjust as the means).

We need to speak out. We need to demand this to be stopped. But we need to be careful. We must not accept anything which claims to be a solution; we must understand what is being suggested as being put in place instead of the current policy and determine whether or not it actually solves the crisis or not. Thus, we should not be fooled about quick fixes; what we see coming out of the GOP certainly does not solve the crisis but can be said to make it worse.

Make no mistake. We will be judged by our response. Will we show ourselves up to the task at hand, challenging the evil before us, or will let this evil be normalized and judged for our acceptance of evil? This is not the first time the United States has face this evil; it is not just a modern phenomenon. Native Americans. Africans, and many others, faced the horrors of families being divided with support from the law. Those who defended slavery, and the cruelty which it created, did so similar to the way we hear Sessions and others defend Trump’s policies today: by pointing to the Bible, claiming the law had to be followed because it was the law. While today we might now recognize the evil of slavery and honor as heroes those who rebelled against such a cruel law, and tomorrow, we will recognize the evil of separating children from their parents in such an inhumane fashion, the consequence of our evil actions will live on. Those affected by slavery still suffer as a result of what their families went through; what will be the long-term effects on the families and the nations which now justify cruelty to immigrants?


[IMG= Asylum seekers protesting on the roof of the Villawood immigration detention centre in Sydney, Australia by Adam.J.W.C. [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], from Wikimedia Commons]


[1] Pope Francis, “Message of Pope Francis For the ‘Second Holy-See Mexico Conference on International Migration” (June 14, 2018).

[2] Quoted by Jack Jenkins, “Catholic Bishops Rebuke Trump’s Asylum Changes, Suggest ‘Canonical Penalties” Religion News Service (June 13, 2018).

[3] Amir Tibon, “In Rare Rebuke, Orthodox Union Slams Trump’s Policy of Separating Migrant Kids From Families” Haeeritz, (June 16, 2018).

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