It seems children are always afraid of being taken away from their parents. We see this theme played out many times in stories aimed at kids, such as Hansel and Gretel. Perhaps because the thought of losing their loving caretaker is the most horrific thought in a child’s mind, creators use it to showcase danger and hardship for their heroes on adventures. However, in our current society, children aren’t being taken away by hungry, cannibalistic witches who live in gingerbread houses – they’re being taken by angry, paranoid Americans who live in big, white houses.

Confusion On Both Sides

Many people around the country see the Zero Tolerance policy—the law that legalizes the separation of children from their parents at the border—to be the monster that it is. In fact, the law is currently so unpopular that just like Victor Frankenstein, President Trump has disowned his own creation.

“I hate children being taken away,” CBS News reported the President stating last week. “The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law.”

Unfortunately, the President isn’t the only one confused about his policy. According to The New York Times, many people fleeing from violence in El Salvador and Honduras are unsure of what will happen if they cross the border into the United States.

“My son and my wife are the only thing I have,” Elid Turcios, a Honduran man fleeing with his family from gang violence in Honduras where his parents were murdered, told The New York Times. “[But] I want to get to the border. Because what else can we do?”

Besides this, the confusion of the Trump administration’s new policy has caused one crime to be on the rise: human smuggling.  According to The New York Times, more and more immigrants are entering the United States via human smugglers since they see no other way of entering without being arrested and separated. Trump administration officials argue that families seeking asylum can enter the United States legally at a port of entry; however, many immigrants have been prevented from reaching those ports, forcing many to choose to be smuggled in as a last resort.

Bad Memories

Even for some Americans, such as Rick Noguchi, the situation with the immigrants brings back horrific memories. In a National Public Radio (NPR June 20, 2018) article, Mr. Noguchi states, “We [Japanese Americans] know that there have been impacts on individuals psychologically because they’d been forcibly removed from their parents. There are parallels.”

Of course, the situation Mr. Noguchi is referring to in the NPR article is the creation of internment camps that Japanese Americans were forced into after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s often said that history repeats itself. If the Zero Tolerance policy is causing Japanese Americans to recall this particularly dark episode in our nation’s past, we as a country need to step back and take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask which face we want to show the world.

Growing Pains

Speaking of the traumatic experiences in internment camps, an article from Scientific American describes some of the major psychological issues that could potentially affect not only the children but their parents too. For example, the article states that studies have proven that children who have been separated from their parents develop depressive symptoms such as not eating, changes in sleep patterns, aggression or clinginess. Children also develop levels of anxiety so high that they begin self-mutilating by biting their arms or trying to choke themselves.

The longer the children are kept from their parents, the longer-lasting the symptoms. This is because when a child is separated from their parents, they may feel so much stress for so long that their “danger hormone” – the hormone that causes the fight-or-flight instinct – may never go down, even after the threat has left. If this occurs, it can rewire the child’s brain to the point where they develop serious learning, developmental, and health issues.  As the child grows, he or she may even develop serious health issues such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and higher rates of cancer.

And what about their parents? Scientific American continues by stating that the parents of the children who were separated, experience dangerous levels of depression, some even to the point of suicide, as was the case with one father. Many parents fear, the article says, that their children will be mad at them for not getting them out of the detention center sooner, and are equally distraught by not being able to be there to love and protect their child at such a difficult time.

The Wrong Arrests

The biggest irony of all? Despite the one major argument that supporters of the Zero Tolerance policy mention—that it keeps the borders safer and more secure—law enforcement told ABC News that reality is quite the opposite.  For example, former undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security, John Cohen, said in an interview with ABC News: “Zero Tolerance policies can quickly overwhelm the resources of the criminal justice system. Quickly jails will become overfilled. Enforcement officers will be taken off patrol and used to transport and process the sudden mass increase in people being arrested and detained. The courts will become inundated and the result is in order to focus on these people who committed minor crimes, police, and prosecutors will be diverted from dealing with more serious issues.”

Furthermore, those who do commit crimes that fall into the “more serious issues” category can, according to Cohen, change their tactics quickly, such as drug dealers changing towns to avoid law enforcement.  With all these issues put together, the true effectiveness of the Zero Tolerance policy is quite bleak.

Now, there have been some instances where Zero Tolerance policies were imposed and worked; however, they were short term and only used in times of dire circumstances. For example, in New York, the quality of life was so low that the chief of police issued a Zero Tolerance policy stating that one would be arrested for even minor offenses such as playing dice or gambling. In this situation, the policy worked well and the rate of crimes dropped off significantly. However, this policy was ended soon after the situation improved, and the majority of citizens knew about the policy before it was in effect. In the case of the immigrants, however, many who cross the border don’t know or even understand the law. Not only that, but the atrocities of gang violence often make the idea of staying far worse than any punishment that they could face on the other side.

Past Problems

This is also why, according to another article by NPR (June 19, 2018), a previous law called Project Streamline put in place by the Bush administration, also failed to deter immigrants from crossing into the United States. Under Project Streamline, immigrants crossing the border illegally were arrested and put in jail. The project was originally just put in place in the small, Texas town of Del Rio, where, essentially, it worked. Del Rio received far fewer illegal immigrants than other towns, because the immigrants would just go to the other towns where they wouldn’t be prosecuted. When Project Streamline was implemented on a national level, however, it failed to deter immigrants from entering the United States because, as stated in the article, a little time in jail in the United States is far better than ending up dead on the street back home.

The fact of that matter is that using extreme measures to deter immigration, such as deportation or separating families, doesn’t seem to work very well at all. Essentially, all it does is create more issues for both U.S. citizens and immigrants alike and violates human rights, as is the case with the Zero Tolerance Project. Even now, after the executive order has been signed to return the children to their parents, no one is sure exactly how to reunite the families. An apt analogy for what’s going on right now would be one that a government teacher once told a class of high school sophomores. It goes like this:

Let’s say you’re a very wealthy individual, and there’s this kid that keeps vandalizing your mailbox. Every day, you go to tell this kid to knock it off, but he keeps coming back. You called the cops, filed lawsuits, and even had him locked away for a time, but every time he gets out, he comes right back to the mailbox. What do you do?

Right now, by constantly building walls or creating new ordinances, we’re only fighting the kid at the mailbox, and that kid will just keep coming back. So why not instead look at the core of the issue? The people are coming in because life in their home country is so bad. Maybe, if we instead focus on trying to help fight crime and improve the lives in their countries, they’ll have no need to jump the border illegally anymore. Maybe then the kid will finally leave the mailbox alone.


[Image Attribute: Pixabay]