Why Trump’s “Zero-Tolerance” Policy has Devastating Consequences for Immigrant Children

The Justice Department announced April 6th, 2018 that it is implementing a “zero-tolerance” policy to prosecute immigrants entering the U.S. at the border. That is, asylum seekers caught crossing illegally will be charged with a crime and their children sent to refugee shelters, even before agents conduct the legally required interview to evaluate their asylum claims. Jeff Sessions in response in an influx of illegal immigrants at the southwest border commented callously, “If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”

The New York Times reported, “Hundreds of immigrant children have already been separated from their parents at the border since October, and the new policy calling for criminal prosecutions of all those who cross illegally promises to increase that number drastically.” This policy can have severe consequences for the children involved. While immigration laws may be necessary, it is important to understand the real effects these policies have on thousands of families. In addition to the questionable ethics, this approach has already proved difficult to implement.  

A child’s attachment to a caregiver is a vital component to a healthy development. The person the child is attached to is flexible. Perhaps instead of a mother, it’s a grandmother. But the caretaking is not flexible. Renowned researchers Alan Stroufe and Daniel Siegal said,

Security of a child’s attachment predicts the reactions of peers and teachers to that child. Children describe peers with avoidant histories as aggressive or “mean.” They frequently victimize those with resistant or ambivalent attachment histories, who tend not to be socially competent and are the least liked by others… This finding can be best understood by recognizing that early attachments create social expectations in children, and may incline them to see the present in terms of negative past experiences. For such children, their attachment history can become a self-fulfilling prophesy as they behave toward new people in their lives—like peers or teachers—in ways that reproduce old, negative relationships.

These immigrants are already a vulnerable population, many trying to escape Central America’s bloody gang wars. This separation just adds to the trauma and may lead to insecure attachments, attachment disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or a host of other negative consequences. Youth in foster care who experience multiple transient placements are significantly more likely to drop out of high school, be unemployed as adults and develop mental and physical illnesses. (Read more here)

This policy is hurting children. The children who had no voice in whether to cross the Mexico-US border or not. Just because they are not US citizens, does not mean they should be treated as subhuman.  Every person on earth has inherent value and it is not the right of the US Justice Department to decide if immigrant children are deserving of decency or not.

Please, raise your voice with me. Let the Secretary or Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen know you are against this zero-tolerance policy because of it’s disastrous effects on immigrant children.

Send your letter or email to:

The Honorable Kirstjen M. Nielsen

Secretary of Homeland Security

Washington, D.C. 20528



Posted in All, Public Policy
About the author:
Veronika Tait is the proud mother of two little ones. She earned her PhD in Social Psychology at Brigham Young University. When she’s not singing Broadway show tunes in her shower, she’s reading parenting books, teaching psychology courses, or starting political fires on Facebook.