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The Family Separation Crisis Exposes America’s Addiction to Incarceration

Children in a line
Children in a line
Somil Trivedi,
Former Senior Staff Attorney,
ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project
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July 5, 2018

The continuing cruelty on display at our southern border has unleashed a righteous, primal scream of revulsion from Americans across the ideological spectrum. The outrage, plus a successful ACLU legal effort in San Diego, seems to have helped turn the tide toward family reunification. However, the common refrain seems to be, “This is not who we are,” as if ripping families apart to punish or deter crime is so novel and grotesque that it’s unrecognizable as American.

The truth is that the criminal justice system we are imposing on immigrants is a reflection of the one we impose on our own — and both need fixing. At the border, we are taking children from desperate parents based on misdemeanor border crossing — or based on no illegality at all, if the family has properly presented itself for asylum.

But every day inside the United States, we do a version of this to tens of thousands of our own citizens. Judges and prosecutors impose cash bail that keeps parents locked up and apart from their families prior to trial, and children’s services agencies often remove kids from their parents based on unsubstantiated criminal allegations as proof of parental unfitness.

Every day, roughly 450,000 people are held in jail pretrial — meaning they are presumed innocent of any crime — and a significant portion of those are behind bars because they cannot afford bail. Worse yet, the arrest that resulted in pretrial detention is routinely used to justify a criminal temporary order of protection, or triggers the removal of children by a family court, even before the state proves the crime.

Read the full article on The Hill.

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