Effects of US Border Policy of Prevention by Deterrence


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Sometimes immigration policies meant to reduce the number of illegal entries into the U.S can cause greater harm in the process. Immigration to the U.S has been a contentious topic over the years as politicians use it to garner support for their election campaigns. The coverage from news media and election propaganda has increased the attention towards immigration to the U.S Southern border. As hundreds of thousands of people seek asylum and better opportunities in the U.S, the federal government has sought to reduce the number of people coming into the U.S to live undocumented. In the pursuit of this goal, many policies that have been enacted have caused devastating effects on people and families. Two such policies are the recent “Zero Tolerance” policy and the older “Prevention through Deterrence” policy.


In 2018 the Trump administration passed a “zero tolerance” policy which had the Department of Justice arrest all immigrants coming to the border. Under the policy, the department of Justice would criminally charge everyone coming to the border regardless of whether they had minors with them or were seeking asylum. They were to be detained in federal prison where children were not allowed, and so the separation of families occurred. The separation of families was not the goal of the policy, but after the heavy backlash from the public, President Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to maintain custody of the families instead of handing them over to the Department of Justice. A federal judge then ordered that all families be reunited.


In 1994 an immigration policy known as “Prevention through Deterrence” which employed a strategic plan to concentrate efforts to certain areas of the border. The plan was to avoid thinning out resources throughout the border, and to instead patrol only the major points of entry. This means that most efforts would be put towards the geographical areas with the most traffic. That in turn would increase the number of people arrested. Additionally, it would force immigrants to cross over “hostile terrain.” In effect, border patrol would be cutting immigrants off from the major points of entry to only leave open the more dangerous points of entry. The goal was to “increase the cost” of crossing the border illegally. The policy did not work as thousands of people lost their lives attempting the lethal crossing. Jason De Leon created an art exhibit called Hostile Terrain 94 which displayed a visual of the toe tags that belonged to the remains of the people lost to the Arizona desert in their attempt to cross the border. The exhibit came as a response to the effects of the policy and has been displayed in several colleges and universities.


Both policies were rescinded after the effects they had on the U.S immigrant population. Immigration to the U.S has not been deterred as the rate of people coming to the U.S Southern border continue to stay at a high level.