Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

The Trump administration introduced its "zero tolerance" immigration policy in May. (Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Patrol)

The Trump Administration's Own Numbers Show "Zero Tolerance" Didn't Work

The "zero-tolerance" policy appears to have achieved only one thing: Making it extremely difficult for asylum-seekers to follow the law.

Gus Bova

 by Texas Observer

Border immigration statistics released Thursday appear to show that the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy has not deterred asylum-seeking families from illegally crossing the U.S-Mexico border or made a significant dent in overall immigration. The data, released by Customs and Border Protection, show that the number of immigrant families arrested after illegally crossing the southern border has remained steady over the past three months, hovering around 9,500.

“This shows what we’ve been saying all along, which is people fleeing persecution and fleeing for their lives are not going to be deterred,” said Michelle Brané, director of the migrant rights and justice program for the Women’s Refugee Commission. “Deterrence doesn’t work; all it does is put people in further danger.”

The data also show the “zero-tolerance” policy has had minimal impact on overall unauthorized immigration. While there was an 18 percent decrease from May to June in the total number of undocumented immigrants encountered at the border, CBP itself says on its website that the drop conforms with a years-old “downward trend” occurring at this time of year. The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment, and a CBP spokesperson declined to comment beyond a previously issued statement.

The numbers do show one impact of the “zero tolerance” policy: Fewer families seem to be turning themselves in at ports of entry to seek asylum — the exact action prescribed by law and repeatedly demanded by Trump administration officials. From May to June, almost 2,000 fewer undocumented families turned themselves in to customs officials at bridges — likely because officials have been literally standing in the way.

“They’re turning people away and blocking the ports of entry, so it’s not surprising those numbers are down,” said Brané, adding that the government, in practice, was “countering its own advice” that asylum seekers should turn themselves in at bridges rather than crossing illegally.

Thursday’s numbers fly in the face of the Trump administration’s justifications for its “zero-tolerance” crackdown — which began in earnest in April, and has led to up to 3,000 immigrant children being ripped from their families.

In June, Fox News host Laura Ingraham asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions whether family separation was a “deterrent.” Sessions replied, “I see the fact that no one was being prosecuted for this was a factor in a fivefold increase in four years in this kind of illegal immigration. … So, yes, hopefully people will get the message and come through the border at the port of entry and not break across the border unlawfully.”

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told NPR in May: “A big name of the game is deterrence,” adding that family separation is “a tough deterrent.”

But migrants and asylum-seekers are not being deterred, the new numbers suggest. The Trump administration has managed to inflict likely permanent trauma on thousands of kids, many still separated, over the last three months. But apart from that, it appears to have achieved only one thing: Making it extremely difficult for asylum-seekers to follow the law.

To claim victory, they’ll have to admit that’s what they wanted all along.

© 2021 Texas Observer

Gus Bova

Gus Bova reports on immigration, the U.S.-Mexico border and grassroots movements for the Texas Observer. He formerly worked at a shelter for asylum-seekers and refugees.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.


Abortion Rights Defenders Applaud Judge's Block on Utah 'Trigger Ban'

"Today is a win, but it is only the first step in what will undoubtedly be a long and difficult fight," said one pro-choice advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·

Scores Feared Dead and Wounded as Russian Missiles Hit Ukraine Shopping Center

"People just burned alive," said Ukraine's interior minister, while the head of the Poltava region stated that "it is too early to talk about the final number of the killed."

Brett Wilkins ·

Biodiversity Risks Could Persist for Decades After Global Temperature Peak

One study co-author said the findings "should act as a wake-up call that delaying emissions cuts will mean a temperature overshoot that comes at an astronomical cost to nature and humans that unproven negative emission technologies cannot simply reverse."

Jessica Corbett ·

Amnesty Report Demands Biden Take Action to End Death Penalty

"The world is waiting for the USA to do what almost 100 countries have achieved during this past half-century—total abolition of the death penalty," said the group.

Julia Conley ·

Pointing to 'Recently Obtained Evidence,' Jan. 6 Panel Calls Surprise Tuesday Hearing

The announcement came less than a week after the House panel delayed new hearings until next month, citing a "deluge" of fresh evidence.

Common Dreams staff ·

Common Dreams Logo