The terrible price of zero tolerance immigration

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COMMENTARY

by Robert Muggah

OpenDemocracy
June 19, 2018

Within minutes of crossing the border, they are ripped from their mothers arms. The children, some of them still breastfeeding, are shuffled into temporary shelters. Their parents are marched to detention centers where they are kept under lock and key. Stories and images are emerging of toddlers, adolescents and teenagers crammed into cages. After making the treacherous voyage from Central America and Mexico, asylum seekers and migrants are treated like stray dogs on arrival. Even wailing babies find little consolation: government policy is that they are not to be touched. The psychological damage, stress and emotional trauma they endure is incalculable.

Welcome to Donald Trump’s America. Since US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the zero tolerance immigration policy two months ago, roughly 2,000 children have been separated from their parents. The reality is no one knows for sure. Sessions claims that these separations are justified by the Bible and will deter illegal immigration, though there is no evidence backing either claim. His is a minority position. Yet while most critics agree that the new policy is cruel and inhumane, Sessions and others in the Trump administration are undeterred. People seeking safe refugee are being charged with a criminal offence the moment they arrive. US officials don´t care if they have legitimate asylum claims: every new arrival is going straight to jail.

The banality of evil is thriving in border states like Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. In implementing zero tolerance, stone-faced patrol officers and over-worked social workers – "neither perverted nor sadistic" – are acting in terrifyingly normal ways. As Hannah Arendt once said of the Nazi lieutenant-colonel Adolph Eichmann, it is their "inability … to think from the standpoint of somebody else" that is leading civil servants to condone monstrous injustices. Their hearts are not filled with malice – but their actions are cruel beyond words. 

Image credit: Flickr/Patrick Feller

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