What Does “Zero Tolerance” Prosecution Amount To? Very Little

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

Children have been separated from their families at the southern border because Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions implemented a "zero tolerance" policy that calls for mandatory detention and prosecution of anyone caught crossing the border, but what's the punishment for that?

We already know crossing the border illegally is a simple misdemeanor offense, but to my surprise the punishment for being convicted is virtually the same as if their prosecution had not been mandated by the "zero tolerance" policy.

Court records reviewed by USA Today show that being convicted leads to the same deportation process they would have faced anyway.

The crackdown has produced a high-velocity assembly line of prosecutions that has sped thousands of migrants through crowded federal courtrooms to answer for the misdemeanor of having entered the United States illegally.

Anexamination of thousands of pages of federal court records show that those cases are seldom more than a symbolic undertaking. In many cases, migrants are taken from an immigration holding facility, bused to federal court, quickly plead guilty to having entered the country illegally, and are sentenced to whatever time they have already spent in the government’s custody and a $10 court fee. Then they're returned to immigration authorities to be processed for deportation.

In the past, immigrants caught crossing the border illegally would simply be processed for deportation from the beginning unless they had a prior criminal record or asked for asylum.

The Trump regime added an extra step to the process that, in the end, amounts to little more than a formality; a very costly formality.

The extra time spent in detention and the separation of families comes at a very high moral and financial cost finally resulting in the same outcome they would have faced anyway: deportation

In other words, the Trump regime implemented a needlessly cruel policy that makes no substantive difference beyond serving as a warning to other immigrants. It's a "deterrent," as they've said so themselves.

  • muselet

    There is one other change to the process: asylum-seekers are being treated as if they were simply undocumented migrants. As Juan Cole pointed out yesterday:

    In essence, the Trump administration is attempting gradually to abolish the acceptance by the US of asylees, in stark contravention to US treaty obligations (and hence to domestic US law).

    Hard to argue against that.

    Nowadays, “Republican governance” and “humane” are directly-contradictory concepts.


  • They’ll decide that it’s not a deterrent and that separations aren’t punishment enough.

    Soon they’ll step up to shooting everyone approaching the border.

    • Victor the Crab

      Stephen Miller is working on that, as we speak.

  • Aynwrong

    Bragging rights to impress the base bigoted assholes. Nothing more.

    • Badgerite

      Well , there’s this.
      Leanne Watt, Ph.D. @leannewattphd June 21
      trump’s border policy hails from Rev. Drollinger. In Ch. 10, Richard Painter and I discuss his extremist sway over
      8 cabinet members who attend his weekly meetings: He teaches “separation from their children” is BIBLICAL consquence for x-ing border.

      That explains Sessions blathering on about the Bible while ignoring the law and simple human decency.

  • ninjaf

    Just like anything else this administration likes to parade before the cameras: no actual good being done, but it makes them feel better sticking it to those brown folks!