“Zero Tolerance” on the Border: Not Just Heartless, but Also Thoughtless
by D.J. McGuire
So much ink has been spilled and bandwith used on the “zero tolerance” policy initiated at the border with Mexico that I wondered if I really could add anything of significance. It turns out I can, for there is so much (understandable) outrage at the utter heartlessness of family separation and industrial-building-size holding pens for children that very little attention has been paid to just how stupid this policy is – and how anything requiring an actual, long-term solution will require America to ditch her present isolationist funk and return to the robust interventions of her past.
First up, though, is the initial stupidity. One can only assume that those still clinging to a defense of “zero tolerance” without resorting to outright racism are concerned about security and crime. I would humbly submit that these issue (rather than racism) are likely the most pertinent and powerful reasons for people to become immigration restrictionists in the first place (after 9/11, these reasons pushed me into restrictionism for roughly a decade). Yet it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes of thought to recognize that (1) asylum seekers and those escaping violence in their homelands are hardly security threats to the nation, and (2) that splitting families apart and keeping children in holding pens is a near-perfect way to encourage anger at America and her laws. If there is a better way to prime young people for MS-13, I honestly can’t come up with one at the moment.
Ending “zero tolerance” is merely a short-term answer. In the long run, the dissolution of order and peace in Central America needs to be addressed. For too long, Americans have been taught and told, repeatedly, that our historical interventions in region have caused more trouble than they were worth. To be fair, not every action America took was in the best interest of the people there (or even here). However, we are now seeing one our border (and one could argue have been seeing since 2014 at least) the effect of a quarter-century of not playing a role in the region: Guatemala and Honduras in chaos, El Salvador suffering under a left-wing ex-Communist government (where the opposition is a party whose founder is best known as a death-squad leader), and Nicaragua back under Sandinista control – and suffering under violent tyranny once more.
This is a far cry from the situation in the early 1990s, after three Administrations (Carter, Reagan, and Bush the Elder) that understood the importance of building and supporting stable, democratic governments in Central America. They also saw those who did reach our shores (or the Rio Grande) from that region as victims – and potential allies in our efforts to help those left behind.
There is no such fore-sighted vision in the current Administration, but the opposition (yes, fellow Democrats, I’m talking to you) seems to share this myopia. However much Democrats are willing to fight “zero tolerance” (and they deserve credit and support for that), they need to recognize that people don’t just start suffering when they are within reach of an American border official. Central America needs our help, and it needs our help now.
What we are seeing at the border is the wage of isolationism. Our growing refusal to engage with the rest of the world does not allow us to ignore their suffering. It simply comes to our doorstep.
The Trump Administration is doubling down on keeping its head in the sand with “zero tolerance” – and if polling is any indication, most Republicans are following suit. The Democrats need to do more than just try to reverse this policy, they need to attack the isolationism that led to it.
D.J. McGuire – a self-described “progressive conservative” – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015.