A group of 75 former United States Attorneys who were nominated by both Democratic and Republican presidents wrote a letter that took a new approach to explaining why the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy for prosecuting people who enter the country illegally is problematic. They explained that the policy isn’t just damaging to children who are taken from their families, but it goes against GOP goals of tackling larger immigration issues, as well as cutting government costs, calling it “dangerous, expensive, and inconsistent with the values of the institution in which we served.”
The letter, addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, begins with the usual criticisms of the zero tolerance policy, saying that it “has resulted in the unnecessary trauma and suffering of innocent children.” It also says that while other administrations have “balanced the need for effective enforcement and deterrence with humanity and compassion,” the Trump administration “abandons that balance” with their policy.
From there, however, the former federal prosecutors explain what this practice means for the attorneys who have to enforce it. By having to prosecute every single case of illegal entry, a misdemeanor for first offenders, their resources would be drained by an ever-increasing caseload. Spending already limited resources on these cases, the letter explains, would “ultimately render us less safe as a nation,” because when attorneys are busy handling these misdemeanor cases, they’re not devoting resources to more significant crimes like a terrorist plot, a child human trafficking organization, an international drug cartel or a corrupt public official.”
In addition to the risk involved in not being able to spend as much time on more serious matters, the letter points out “the crushing expense” of the zero tolerance policy.
“At a time when federal prison costs are threatening to blow an unfillable hole in the Department of Justice’s budget,” the letter says, “the United States must now bear the cost of detaining parents and their entire families for months as their misdemeanor cases wind through the court system.”
Basically, they’re appealing to the traditionally Republican ideal of decreased government spending to show why current practices are as unsustainable for the U.S. as they are harmful to the children who get caught up in the cross-fire.
Finally, the former U.S. Attorneys refute the administration’s claim that the current policy is necessary according to the law.
“As former U.S. Attorneys, we know that none of these consequences — nor the policy itself — is required by law,” the letter says. “Rather, its implementation and its execution are taking place solely at your direction, and the unfolding tragedy falls squarely on your shoulders.”
[Image via The Hill screengrab]