BIPP Insights

BIPP guest writer Rebeca Mercado-Rios explores recent policy changes involving immigration in the following article:

A Past, Present, and Future look into America’s Migration Crisis
By Rebeca Mercado-Rios

It has been roughly six weeks since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero-tolerance” policy on immigration and President Trump’s signing of an executive order preventing the separation of families at the border.

It is largely migrants from the Northern Triangle, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador that come to the United States seeking asylum. Gang-related violence is often the greatest push-factor. The most notable gangs, MS-13 and MS-18 originated in Los Angeles and their hold of these countries can be traced back to the accessibility of firearms and the large-scale deportations of undocumented immigrants with criminal records to Central America.

Former presidents have faced the challenges that violence in the Northern Triangle brings. President George W. Bush also had a “zero-tolerance” policy for undocumented immigration, but family units and minors were exempted from restrictive processes that promptly prosecuted and deported. The Obama Administration also made efforts to keep families together, but they did so while calling for an “aggressive deterrence strategy” for migrants from Central America.

The current secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen echoed the sentiment of deterrence, stating that separating families may “discourage parents” from seeking asylum in the United States. Under President Trump, “zero-tolerance” means anyone who attempts to cross the border without documents will be criminally prosecuted. The newly implemented criminal prosecution results in children being separated from their parents. As adults are charged with a crime under the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the children are taken to the Office of Refugee Resettlement under the Department of Homeland Security. Like unaccompanied minors, the process for separated children is detainment, transfer to long-term shelters, to eventual placement with sponsors.

The poor, inhumane conditions of the detainment centers and shelters were met with so much public outcry that President Trump signed an executive order that continues the criminal prosecution of everyone that crosses the border without documentation, but aims to stop separation by finding and building more facilities that can hold families together. The privatization of detention centers is a separate, but connected policy issue. The American Civil Liberties Union cites the, “lack of regulations and enforceable standards regarding detention conditions” which can be expected when a system prioritizes profits above all. The executive order also leaves unclear what will happen to the 2,000 children who have already been separated from their parents, asks the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to modify the Flores settlement to prolong the detainment of children past 20 days, and is said by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, to only be “a temporary solution,” that calls
Congress to action.

We have had countless crises on the border, and they point to a larger issue at hand. It is one surrounding compassion, accountability, and hope. It is an issue that no president, past or present, Republican or Democrat, has gotten quite right. Policies that create more for-profit detention centers fail to address the root causes of mass migration, and move us in the wrong direction. If the Families Belong Together protests around the country on June 30th are any indication, we can be hopeful for change brought on by a newly mobilized public around immigration. Activism is a powerful tool for political change, and we should maintain our fervor in our polling stations to elect officials that support policies that align with our values.

*The Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP) is a nonpartisan institute. Guest writers views on public policy are not endorsed by the Institute.


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