One of the worst American policies today is the decision of President Donald Trump’s administration to separate many immigrant parents from their children after they illegally cross the U.S. border. Obviously, a case can be made for enforcing the border, but deliberate cruelty is never a good idea. Those children — innocent victims all of them — will likely be traumatized for life. I am uncomfortably reminded of the U.S.’s long history of separating parents and children from the days of slavery and during Native American removal and extermination.
If you agree with me on this, I’d like to push you one step further. It's horrible to forcibly separate lawbreaking parents from their children, but we do that to American citizens, too. According to one study, more than 1.1 million men and 120,000 women in U.S. jails and prisons have children under the age of 17. These separations can be traumatic, and they help perpetuate generational cycles of low achievement and criminal behavior.
From 1991 to 2007, the number of children with a mother in prison more than doubled, rising 131 percent. About two-thirds of the women in state prisons are there for nonviolent offenses. Sixty percent of those women have children under the age of 18, and in one survey one-quarter of the prisoners’ children were under the age of 4. Forty-one percent of the women in state prison had more than one child…One estimate suggests that 11 percent of the children of imprisoned mothers end up in foster care. . . .
Let’s take one-tenth of those women and move them from prison to house arrest, combined with electronic monitoring. That would allow for proximity to their children. If the U.S. isn’t plagued by a subsequent wave of violent crime — and I don’t think it will be — let us try the same for yet another tenth. Let’s keep on doing this until it’s obviously not working.