WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
28 Jun 2018 | Press Release

What WOLA Experts Saw at the U.S-Mexico Border: ‘Zero Tolerance’ Policy is Creating a Mess

Washington, DC—Last week, experts from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)—a leading research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas—visited Arizona’s border with Mexico. The border investigation took place amid the furor over the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” and family separation policies.

In a podcast recapping the major findings of their trip, Adam Isacson, Maureen Meyer, and Adeline Hite describe the following:

1.) The prospect of being detained or prosecuted does not appear to be deterring migrants from coming to the United States in search of protection.

Despite the dangerous journey facing migrants who leave their countries of origin in Central America, for many, staying home is an intolerable risk. This means that harsh policies involving detention or even jail time are unlikely to deter migrants who cannot stay home and risk being killed. (Start listening at 5.20)

2.) The Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy is making it extremely difficult for people to apply for asylum at official ports of entry.

At the under-staffed, under-resourced official ports of entry along the border, those attempting to apply for asylum are facing extremely long wait times—up to two weeks in hot, crowded conditions with little shelter. Others are being turned away in a deliberate effort to undermine the right to asylum. (Start listening at 10.03, and/or at 18.30).

3.) As predicted by WOLA, the zero tolerance policy is starting to overwhelm U.S. ports of entry, courts, and detention facilities.

The administration’s policy is overwhelming the system. What WOLA saw and heard from authorities, migrants, lawyers, advocates, and volunteers makes it clear that the Trump administration did not plan for how zero tolerance would place the system for processing migrants along the border under enormous strain (Start listening at 15:59).

4.) In light of the Trump administration’s failure to prepare for the ramifications of “zero tolerance,” church groups and non-profit organizations are stepping in to provide much-needed services.

These groups are doing urgent, important work for what is essentially a failing system, providing shelter and other services for asylum-seekers. (Start listening at 8.33).

5.) The Trump administration’s harsh, anti-immigrant policies are creating a mess.

It is a mess that is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. In fact, it is likely to get worse as the Trump administration shifts from one chaotic policy to the next. There are many reasonable alternatives that will ensure a legal, orderly and humane asylum process. However, shifting from family separation to expanding family detention will be harmful to children and families, expensive, and unnecessary. (Start listening at 20:10).

Listen to the podcast