Norway can’t tolerate zero tolerance

Linn Chloe Hagstrøm
The Norwegian American

“On the Edge” is the new opinion column in the Norwegian American Weekly, featuring opinion pieces written by invited contributors who make some comments on the current issues that define modern Norway.

norway immigration opinion

Image: Inge Grødum / Aftenposten
This political cartoon depicting Donald Trump as a brutal sheriff glaring at sorrowful detained children was printed in the June 20, 2018, issue of Aftenposten, Norway’s largest printed newspaper.

The zero-tolerance policy to curb illegal immigration sparked strong reactions across the United States, internationally, and in Norway. America descended into moral crisis, and after much criticism and political pressure, President Donald Trump signed an executive order meant to keep families together while their legal cases are considered. The Norwegian top brass failed to call out their ally, the U.S., before the new executive order was issued.

In April 2018, the Trump administration pushed forward a zero-tolerance policy to deal with undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers crossing the southern U.S. border. All border crossers were criminally charged and jailed, while children could not be incarcerated with their parents. Migrant children were forcibly separated from their parents and placed in different facilities.

Videos and audio recordings of crying children being separated from their parents incentivized many to speak up against the policy both in the United States and abroad, including former First Lady Laura Bush, who called the policy cruel and immoral. Amnesty International called for action against it. Former Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain tweeted that this “family separation policy is an affront to the decency of the American people, and contrary to principles and values upon which our nation was founded.”

Amnesty International claims that “the systematic separation of families by the Trump administration is designed to undermine people’s right to seek asylum in the U.S. when forced to run from persecution in their home countries.” The organization goes so far as to call splitting families torture.

More than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents or legal guardians at the U.S. border since the policy was implemented. Amnesty International argues that the rights of children were infringed upon in multiple ways, namely being detained and held in cages, being separated from their parents or guardians, and being exposed to unwarranted trauma and damage that may impact their development.
United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said on June 18, that “the thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable,” as reported by The New York Times.

In Norway, Audun Lysbakken from the Socialist Left Party (SV) and Abid Raja from the Liberal Party (V) have both called for a reaction from Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide (H) on the issue of detention of children, according to ABC Nyheter. In a letter to the Foreign Minister, SV leader Lysbakken demands that Norway take a stance against these methods and requests a response to the Trump administration. Raja told ABC Nyheter that, “From a human rights and children’s perspective, the events currently unfolding in the U.S. are truly undignified. Remaining silent will not serve Western democracies well.”

One of Norway’s leading experts on refugee and asylum laws, Arild Humlen, told Aftenposten that these measures seem to present serious abuse against both children and parents. Humlen adds that forced separation would never happen in Norway: “If you come to Norway and say the word asylum, application processes that involve the family as a whole would be initiated immediately.” Further, he argues that children have a special need for protection, and it is obvious that splitting families does not take into consideration the children’s best interests. Humlen believes that this policy and the actions therein may be in violation of both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Refugee Convention.

Although the policy was meant to deter migrants from seeking to cross the U.S. border, Wayne A. Cornelius of the University of California, San Diego, and Idean Salehyan of the University of North Texas found in their 2007 research into the matter that “tougher border controls have had remarkably little influence on the propensity to migrate illegally to the U.S.” Further, they claim that “political restrictions on immigration are far outweighed by economic and family-related incentives to migrate.” Thus, the immigration policy platform Trump’s administration operates within is dubious. Using the zero-tolerance policy to push forward funding for the border wall seems pointless, especially in light of Cornelius and Salehyan’s findings, which add that “additional investment of taxpayer dollars in a border enforcement-centered strategy of immigration control, leaving intact the employer demand for unauthorized immigrant labor, is unlikely to create an effective deterrent to unauthorized migration.”

The new executive order seems on the surface to ameliorate the problem, yet it makes no mention of the children who have already been removed from their parents under the zero-tolerance policy. It only calls for immigrant families to be detained together, indefinitely, while their cases are considered, speeding up immigration cases involving families, and requesting modification of the Flores Agreement, a court ruling that dictates how long immigrant children can be detained.

Despite the executive order, the zero-tolerance policy has left a lasting stain on the reputation of the U.S. abroad. This is compounded by the announcement that the nation will leave the UN Human Rights Council, ostensibly to protest hypocrisy on the council’s part. Seen together, it looks to some of us in Norway as though the U.S. has turned its back on human rights. How will the U.S. proceed on immigration policies? And will the Norwegian leadership speak up against inhumane policies in the future?

Further reading
• “Does border enforcement deter unauthorized immigration? The case of Mexican migration to the United States of America,” by Wayne A. Cornelius and Idean Salehyan. Regulation & Governance:
• “Separating children from their parents at the border ‘breaks my heart,’” by Laura Bush. Washington Post:

This article originally appeared in the June 29, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.