President Donald Trump is on a crusade to imprison immigrants as they cross our borders.
And what’s worse: he’s billing his “zero tolerance” immigration policy — pitting asylum-seekers as criminals — as a humane solution.
In an op-ed published on CNN’s website, Shan Wu, a former federal prosecutor who also served as counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, explains that Trump’s new immigration policy is an effort to deter immigrants from coming to the United States by locking up as many of them as possible.
How is his administration doing this legally? Investigators tried simply attaching “illegal entry” to immigrants’ rap sheets, automatically converting their civil asylum request into a criminal proceeding. It’s important to note that seeking asylum in the United States is not a crime.
Once these immigrants were deemed criminals, they detained the asylum seekers and separated thousands of children from their families.
This continued for weeks, months even, until public outcry and judicial intervention prompted the Trump administration to stop the practice of separating children from parents simply for crossing the border. This was done by executive order.
But according to Wu, the executive order actually expands the ability of the Trump administration to detain people who are seeking entry into the United States. How? By directing the U.S. Justice Department to renegotiate the settlement of the landmark case, Flores v. Reno.
Under the Flores settlement, immigrant children must be detained in the least restrictive conditions possible. If they crossed the borders with their families, they are not allowed to be detained separately from their parents for more than 20 days. The case also established minimum care guidelines for immigrant children.
“If successful, this re-negotiation could mean that whole families could stay incarcerated for whatever amount of time it may take to resolve the various cases of the parents,” Wu explains. “So by pretending to do a good thing — ending the separation of children from their families — Trump’s order really could just put more people in jail over immigration issues.”
Although the courts will likely continue to intervene with President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions as they test legal boundaries, the concern is that neither are doing anything to address immigration policy.
“Sessions’ criminalization of immigration through zero-tolerance ignores the geo-political and socio-economic realities behind immigration and refugee patterns in favor of a one-size fits all ‘law & order’ posture,” Wu notes in his opinion piece. “This kind of thinking and approach dooms efforts at immigration reform and improvement.”
Trump’s criminalization of immigrants continues months after he signed an executive order to stop separating families at the border. In August, the administration announced that low-income immigrants who rely on public benefits like Medicaid and food stamps will have a much more difficult — if not impossible — path to obtaining a green card.
As Wu points out in his op-ed piece, the greatness of a society is judged by how it treats the less fortunate.
“We will need to do a lot better to pass this test.”