Zero Tolerance: An Open Letter from Jewish Writers about U.S. Immigration Policy

Several days ago, Donald Trump was forced by mounting protests to end his policy of separating children from parents accused of illegally crossing the American border. Once separated from their mothers and fathers, these boys and girls were transported to mass detention centers or put in foster care.  More than 100 of the 2,300 children were younger than four years of age.

To those of us who doubted that any protest would have an effect on Trump, this change in his strategy comes as excellent news – indeed, it is proof that if enough of us join together in protest, we can force him to back down.

Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre. Image Courtesy of DIAC Images

And yet, at the same time that the U.S. President signed his Executive Order and eliminated the most inhumane part of his anti-immigration program, he boasted that he would continue his so-called “zero-tolerance” policy with regard to immigration. Furthermore, his new instructions failed to address the plight of the children who were previously taken from their parents and housed in shelters. Federal officials initially stated that those children would not be immediately reunited with their families.  Later, however, the same officials said that the boys and girls would indeed be returned to their parents in a timely manner. As of today, it remains to be seen whether that is true and how long it will take.

Trump has proven time and time again that he lacks simple human decency and has no respect for people fleeing violence and abuse in their home countries, and who have come to America trying to find a better life.  Indeed, photographs of boys and girls kept in cages became symbolic of his brutal policy and reminded many of us of crimes against humanity committed in other countries, including Hitler’s Germany.  At that time, Jews and Romani (Gypsy) children were forcibly removed from their parents, often at the entrance to concentration camps.

Given Trump’s absolute insistence on taking immigrants into custody and locking them up indefinitely – now, with their children – it has become clear that he and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have also failed to grasp that the federal government is woefully unprepared to implement any “zero-tolerance” policy in a humane and compassionate manner. As if to give clear proof of that, top officials at the Department of Health and Human Services admitted at the end of May that the agency had lost track of nearly 1,500 immigrant children who had crossed the U.S. border with Mexico without adult accompaniment. Although these youngsters were taken into custody and placed with sponsors, the responsible authorities no longer knew where they were or the names of their sponsors.

And so we have decided to institute our own zero-tolerance policy: zero-tolerance for the U.S. government’s disregard for human rights and barbaric treatment of immigrants. And we call on all those who were shocked and appalled by the separation of children from their families to implement such a zero-tolerance strategy as well, and to continue to protest – actively and vocally – Trump’s cruel and perverse policies.




Richard Zimler, novelist (and author of the open letter)

Andrew Benjamin, author and professor

Debra Bergoffen, author and professor

Jay Bernstein, author and professor

Virginia Blum, author and professor

Susan Bordo, author and professor

Sandee Brawarsky, author and journalist

Elizabeth Millán Brusslan, author and professor

Judith Butler, author and professor

Noam Chomsky, author and professor

Amanda Craig, novelist and journalist

Keren David, author and journalist

Jane Flax, author and professor

Bernard Freydberg, author and professor

Marilyn Friedman, author and professor

Jacob Golomb, author and professor

Lawrence Grossberg, author and professor

Eva Hoffman, novelist, author and professor

Mikhail Iossel, author and professor

Inbali Iserles, novelist

Gerald Jacobs, novelist and journalist

Gabriel Josipovici, novelist, author and professor

Alice Kaplan, author and professor

Michael Lerner, author and rabbi

Lucille Kerr, author and professor

John Nathan, author, translator, director and producer

Suzanne Pucci, author and professor

Elizabeth Rosner, novelist and author

Catherine Rottenberg, author and professor

Elizabeth Rottenberg, author and professor

Alan Rosenberg, author and professor

Deborah Rosenfelt, author and professor

Meg Rosoff, novelist and children’s author

Tony Rudolf, author, journalist and publisher

Shlomo Sand, author and professor

Alan Schrift, author and professor

Gary Shapiro, author and professor

Joshua Sobol, playwright and director

Andrew Solomon, author, journalist and novelist

Francisco José Viegas, novelist and journalist

Steven Vogel, author and professor

John Wolf, author and journalist


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