Report from the Field: Zero Tolerance, An Open Letter from Jewish Writers about U.S. Immigration Policy

This Report from the Field has been authored by Richard Zimler and signed by members of the Jewish writing community, in response to US Supreme Court decisions announced on 6/26/2018 and the ongoing crisis at the US Border.

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.  

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
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
Gal Uchovsky, screenwriter and film producer
Steven Vogel, author and professor
John Wolf, author and journalist
David Ulin, author and novelist