WASHINGTON (Nov. 16, 2020)—The media frenzy surrounding family separations at the border and the establishment of harsh policies like “zero tolerance” have made immigration a major focus of the last four years. However, these Trump administration approaches to immigration reform are not inherently conservative despite what Trump supporters might say.

In a new policy paper, Jonathan Haggerty, Resident Fellow of Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties, and Arthur Rizer, R Street Director of Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties, find that there is a strong center-right case for restoring prosecutorial discretion in immigration cases, and the incoming administration will have bipartisan support to repeal the ineffective and unpopular zero tolerance policy.

“Conservatives should support a return to prosecutorial discretion, and they should view criminal sanctions as a dangerous hammer and not as a universal solution,” said Haggerty and Rizer. “By embracing conservative principles on immigration enforcement, we recall that we live in a nation built by immigrants; a place that has welcomed the persecuted and offered them shelter. We will find ourselves a lesser nation if we forget the truths upon which it was built.”

As we look ahead to a Biden administration, there is ample opportunity for change. While, President-elect Biden will likely face pushback from Republicans in Congress, that does not mean he won’t be able to change immigration enforcement during his presidency. Replacing the hardline immigration programs of the past four years will require a clear policy roadmap, but a full repeal of the zero tolerance policy and a restoration of prosecutorial discretion are the most immediate and effective actions the incoming Biden administration could take.

You can read the full paper, “A New Conservative Approach to Immigration Enforcement,” here.

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