ACLU Rallies for Freedom and Justice for All at State Capitol

400 ACLU members gathered for the organization’s annual conference to lobby lawmakers on bail reform, immigration, and religious freedom legislation

SACRAMENTO–Today, the ACLU of California hosted its annual rally and lobby day to promote legislation that will reform California’s unfair money bail system, protect immigrants from mass deportations, and stop California from participating in or creating a Muslim registry. Several policymakers, advocates, affected community members, and 400 ACLU members and supporters from throughout the state joined the organization.

“Today and always, the single most powerful thing we can do is to believe that change and progress are not only possible, but inevitable – and that we the people hold the power to create that change,” said Natasha Minsker, Director with the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy and Policy. “The legislation we are promoting today is about freedom and justice for all Californians, no matter how much money you make, how you pray, or where you come from.”

Every year, California’s money bail system keeps thousands of people in jail before they get their day in court – all because they cannot afford to post bail and buy their freedom. This costly, unfair, and ineffective system fuels poverty and racial disparities in the criminal justice system. AB 42 (Bonta) and SB 10 (Hertzberg) are identical measures that will protect the well-being and safety of communities.

“We must stop linking wealth to liberty,” said Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), lead author of AB 42. “A person’s ability to post bail is not an indication of their guilt, innocence, danger to the public, or flight risk. It’s time to restore fairness and add greater public safety to our system by individually assessing the person’s ability to be safely released from custody pretrial.  We must safely reform our money bail system now,” Bonta said.

Specifically, the bills will reduce the number of people locked up because they are unable to pay to get out of jail while their cases move forward. The bills also prioritize services to help people make their court appearances.

“I believe in the American justice system, and I believe the law should treat everyone the same,” said Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys). “The present money bail system lets the rich go free but forces the poor to stay in jail before a court determines guilt or innocence. That’s not right, and that’s not fair. It’s time to take money out of the bail equation and determine if people should be incarcerated pretrial based on the size of their risk, not the size of their wallet.”

San Diego resident and small business owner Melodie Henderson also spoke in support of the reforms. 11 years ago, she was arrested and had her bail amount set to $50,000. Unable to afford the whole amount, her and her grandparents went through a bail bonds company to secure her release as her case moved forward. She spent years trying to pay back the bail bondsman, postponed school, got behind on other bills, and severely damaged her credit.

“The burden that I had placed on my family was worst of all,” said Melodie Henderson. “Watching my grandmother write checks to the bail company for me broke my heart.”

SB 10 will be heard before the Senate Public Safety committee on Tuesday, April 4.

“California’s cash bail system allows those with money to confront their criminal charges while out of custody, by virtue of their wealth.  The problem is, if you’re poor, you’ll stay in jail,” said Assemblymember Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer Sr. “To make matters even worse, bail amounts are approximately 35% higher for African American men and 19% higher for Hispanic men, compared to the bail amounts for white men.”

Joining the organization were also lawmakers and advocates in support of measures to hold the line against the federal government’s assaults on the immigrant and Muslim communities.

“The California Legislature is committed to protecting the civil rights and liberties of all those who call the Golden State home, regardless of race, ethnicity, who you love, or who you worship,” said Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles). “We will never surrender the very values that make California and our nation great no matter who sits in the White House.”

The President pro Tempore introduced SB 54, The California Values Act, to curtail the use of state and local resources to fuel mass deportations that separate families. The bill would also keep schools, hospitals, and courthouses safe and accessible to all Californians.

“With California’s unique population, we will be ground zero for the devastation unleashed by Donald Trump’s discriminatory and hateful policies targeting our state’s immigrants. That’s why we need SB 54 to prevent entanglement between aggressive federal deportation agents and our local police and sheriffs, which chills victims and witnesses of crime, making us all less safe,” said Ronald Coleman, Director of Government Affairs with the California Immigrant Policy Center. “We also know there are many Californian’s who already find themselves trapped in the deportation machine, and for them, we need SB 6 to ensure that all Californian’s get due process and access to legal representation which makes it five times more likely for a person to avoid family separation and the tremendous socioeconomic costs of deportation.”

SB 6, The Expanding Due Process Act, is an important first step to ensuring that immigrants facing deportation in California have a fair day in court. Currently, the federal government tips the scales of justice against immigrants fighting to continue living, working, and contributing to our society by forcing them to navigate deportation’s legal maze alone. Immigration proceedings, involving complex legal questions, require extensive evidence-gathering and force immigrants to go up against the government’s experienced immigration attorneys to make their case before a judge.

“Since 9/11 the Muslim community has been subjected to unconstitutional surveillance and invasion of privacy,” said Yannina Casillas, Legislative & Government Relations Coordinator with the California Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “SB 31 is a direct challenge to longstanding prejudicial policies and practices unfairly targeting the Muslim community. In light of President Trump’s executive orders targeting vulnerable communities, we call on California’s elected officials to pass SB 31 and set the national standard for protecting civil rights.”

On the campaign trail, then-candidate Trump repeatedly proposed a Muslim registry. Although he has not followed through with this threat yet, he continues to spread fear by demonizing and scapegoating the Muslim community with his two Muslim bans. SB 31 (Lara) is a proactive measure that will ensure the federal government never uses California’s state and local governments to create a Muslim registry.

A floor vote on SB 6, SB 31, and SB 54 is expected in the Senate on Monday afternoon.

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