The Kids Are Not Alright: Investigating the Motives Behind Trump's Zero Tolerance Policy

Lakhiani, Nisha [Browse]
Senior thesis


Mann, Anastasia [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
Donald Trump ran his presidential campaign with the promise of implementing aggressive border enforcement upon entering office, and he delivered just that. Beginning in early 2017, soon after the transfer of power to a new administration, the Department of Justice sought to increase criminal immigration enforcement on the Southwest border in response to an increasing number of individuals illegally entering the United States. The Trump Administration, through the Department of Homeland Security in the executive branch, announced this new policy on April 6, 2018. Its language authorized the Department of Justice to criminally prosecute all immigrants who trespassed at the border. Under Zero Tolerance, adults who immigrated with children, including asylum seekers, would have their children taken from them and put in separate facilities. This thesis aims to prove that the Trump Administration’s 2018 Zero-Tolerance policy is rooted in a long-standing history of U.S. immigration policies intended to exclude and subjugate minority populations in order to preserve an American nation based on a whiteness. Specifically, this thesis focuses on four potential hypotheses: the U.S. government implemented the Zero-Tolerance Policy in order to criminalize Latinos, prevent their socioeconomic mobility, and uphold racial divides that persist in America, The Zero-Tolerance Policy is a reiteration of a historic terror tactic implemented by the United States government as a means of maintaining control of an oppressed population by devaluing families, the Zero-Tolerance Policy is a racist, white supremacist-influenced policy that was implemented in order to incite a genocide against Mexican and Central American immigrants at the border through forced sterilization, child separation, and detention, and that Policy is a manifestation of Donald Trump’s racist agenda that was put in place to exert his authority. This thesis adopts a qualitative approach to explore how Donald Trump diverted from the norm with Zero Tolerance, and I will discuss the implications of the policy on the future of immigration politics under a new administration. The results of this thesis indicate that Donald Trump utilized racist rhetoric during his presidential campaign to demonize Mexicans as criminals. Trump fabricated much of his campaign rhetoric with the intent to amass support and secure a following during his run. The conditions of the detention facilities under the Trump Administration provided evidence that supported the hypothesis that Zero Tolerance was initiated to incite a genocide: children were separated from their parents, unauthorized sterilizations were performed, and children died due to negligence from border officials and disease within the facilities. Evidence also points to detention was implemented to control the Mexican and Central American population arriving in the U.S. Finally, the evidence of investigative reports released after Zero Tolerance ended, as well as Trump negotiating with Democrats to increase funding for his border wall if he ended Zero Tolerance provides evidence for the truth that Trump held children hostage in detention facilities to push his own agenda of establishing a border wall and following through with the promise he made during his presidential campaign. It is important to consider how Trump’s Zero Tolerance will influence immigration policy for future administrations. Further research should look towards how the rise of the prison industrial complex has impacted immigrant detention. Furthermore, ensuing studies may also investigate the maltreatment of immigrants in detention during the Covid-19 epidemic.
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