By Victoria Valenzuela / Original to ScheerPost
The California Senate passed the HOME Act, which would restrict California Department of Corrections (CDCR) officials from transferring people in their custody to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if they already qualify for release under existing reforms.
The bill, passed in a 29-9 vote, is now heading to Gov. Newsom’s desk, where he will have until Oct. 14 to sign it into a law. A similar bill was vetoed by Newsom in 2019.
The CDCR has a history of transferring thousands of people, including U.S. citizens, to ICE instead of releasing them for parole or probation, a double punishment that has devastated families and communities, according to many legal experts and advocates.
Last month, ScheerPost broke the story revealing that the CDCR has transferred 7,824 people from about 110 countries to ICE in the last five years. At least 250 of these people were U.S. citizens, and 600 of them were reported to have an “unknown” place of birth but were transferred to ICE instead of release.
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There have been two previous attempts by the state legislature to limit CDCR’s cooperation with ICE, including the VISION Act, which was struck down in the state Senate last year, and a bill in 2019 vetoed by Gov. Newsom. Illinois, Oregon and Washington D.C., have created legislation that blocks state prisons from cooperating with immigration officials. The California Values Act, which went into effect in 2018, restricts law enforcement from cooperating with immigration officials.
The HOME Act, which was introduced by Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo in February, is supported by a number of groups including the Asian Law Caucus, California Coalition of Women Prisoners, California Immigrant Policy Center and the Orange County Rapid Response Network, among others, some of whom are participating in in the ICE Out of California Coalition. Famed labor leader Dolores Huerta and retired Superior Court Judge LaDoris Cordell are among the bill’s prominent supporters.
According to the bill, the people who benefit from the following laws or actions will be able to be paroled or released on probation in lieu of an ICE transfer:
- “The Racial Justice Act for All” (AB 256 of 2022)
- “Justice for Survivors” Act (AB 124 of 2022)
- Compassionate releases for those who are sick and dying (AB 960 of 2021)
- Reforms for people who received convictions as youth (SB 260, SB 261, AB 1308, SB 394)
- Reform of harsh laws that caused people to be sentenced for murders they did not commit (SB 1437 of 2018)
- Elderly and medical parole releases
- Clemency actions by the governor
Immigrants who have completed their sentences but don’t fall under these reforms or actions still won’t have legal protections against immigration enforcement and will still be considered for transfer to ICE for possible deportation.
“The many calls I get with people fearing for their lives because of both the known and unknown of immigration detention will not end, but they will be less,” said Laura Hernandez, Executive Director of Freedom for Immigrants, in a press release from the ICE Out of California Coalition. “And for that, I am grateful.”
Hernandez, a community leader who spent more than 15 years organizing and advocating while incarcerated in California, said she knows what it feels like to fear transfers and deportation after many years of incarceration, in which “the fear is tangible.”
ScheerPost published a story on Aug. 24 detailing harrowing experiences that people face when set up for an ICE transfer and deportation.
Patricia Medina, 58, a mother of two who lived in California most of her life after arriving in the U.S. from Belize at age 12, spent nearly two decades in CDCR custody and was transferred to immigration detention in Colorado during the height of the pandemic. She was deported to Belize, where she now lives alone and worries she might never see her parents, sisters and children again.
“I’m just hoping something really changes for all these people that are going through what I went through,” Medina previously told ScheerPost. “Think about the families these people are leaving behind.”
Sandra Castañeda, a U.S. citizen who was subjected to ICE transfer and who testified in support of the bill, had her conviction vacated and her release ordered by a judge in 2021, only to have prison officials arrange for ICE to pick her up on the day of her release. She spent another year in an ICE facility in rural Georgia fighting deportation.
“I couldn’t wait to be home. My loved ones were outside, ready to welcome me. But CDCR turned me over to ICE,” Castañeda said in the press release. “This was a nightmare that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The HOME Act is a small change, but it would have made all the difference in my life. I look forward to the governor signing the bill and advancing our goals of equity and justice.”
Victoria Valenzuela is an investigative reporter based in California covering issues in criminal justice. She currently oversees the criminal justice coverage as a reporter at ScheerPost. She is also a fellow with the Law and Justice Journalism Project. In the past, Valenzuela has also worked with ProPublica, BuzzFeed News, and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She is completing graduate studies at the University of Southern California, where she formerly helped teach a class on the power and responsibility of the press.