human rights Immigration Incarceration Original Victoria Valenzuela

Newsom Vetoed Bill Restricting California Prison Transfers to ICE

California was one signature away from placing restrictions on prison transfers to ICE. Gov. Newsom blocked the action, even though it faced no opposition and had supermajority votes.
Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, joined by legislators and advocates, announced the launch of the HOME Act (AB 1306)

By Victoria Valenzuela / Original to ScheerPost

Gov. Newsom vetoed a bill that would have restricted the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) from transferring to Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) people scheduled for release on parole or probation if they have also been granted resentencing, clemency or a compassionate release. The CDCR has transferred thousands of people to immigration detention facilities instead of releasing them to their families and communities, including U.S. citizens and green card holders.

The bill was introduced last spring by Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), who said in a press release that the bill was highly supported by legislation, passed the House and Senate with supermajority votes and faced no opposition from law enforcement. 

After a similar bill was voted down in the Senate last year that would have applied to everyone, the HOME Act was narrowly tailored bill to build upon reforms that have already passed in the legislature but unintentionally excluded immigrants such as the Racial Justice Act for All, Justice for Survivors Act, as well as reforms for people who received convictions as youth and people sentenced for murders they did not commit. It also includes elderly, medical and compassionate releases for those who are sick and dying.

Advocates are saying this perpetuates a system of double punishment against immigrant communities and are now pushing for a veto override to overturn Newsom’s decision on the bill.

“Our commitment to equality, justice, and common humanity is unending and unequivocal. With our communities, we will continue to advocate, organize, and escalate as long as it takes to end the disgraceful practice of double punishment,” the ICE Out of California Coalition wrote in the aftermath of the veto.

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In his veto message issued Friday, Newsom stated:

“The bill would prevent information sharing and coordination upon a person’s release from CDCR custody for a significant number of people and, as a result, would impede CDCR’s interaction with a federal law enforcement agency charged with assessing public safety risks.

I believe current law strikes the right balance on limiting interaction to support community trust and cooperation between law enforcement and local communities.

For this reason, I cannot sign this bill.”

In 2019, Newsom vetoed a similar bill that would have restricted state prison officials’ cooperation with ICE on the basis that it could “negatively impact prison operations.” This was the third attempt in recent years to pass legislation limiting state prison transfers to ICE. In 2018, the California Values Act went into effect placing restrictions on local law enforcement’s cooperation with ICE, but it did not apply to state prison officials.

The veto comes after a recent Public Records Act investigation by the ACLU filed last month, in which they find the CDCR “systematically, and illegally, discriminates against immigrants, refugees, and anyone who prison officials suspect is born outside of the United States.” 

The investigation report, which is based on over 2,500 previously unseen CDCR records and emails from August and September 2022 they obtained, demonstrates the CDCR’s use of resources to “oversee a deportation program that targets thousands of Californians who have served their time and also regularly sweeps up U.S. citizens and green card holders.”

An investigation published by ScheerPost last month details that the CDCR has transferred 7,824 people eligible for release to ICE over the last five years, a practice that advocates have called a “double punishment” imposed on immigrants. According to the CDCR transfer data obtained by ScheerPost, ICE transfers disproportionately impacted Latinos and Asians, and the department also transferred 250 U.S. citizens to ICE, as well as 600 people who CDCR categorized as “unknown.”

On Sept. 14, Laura Hernandez, executive director of the Freedom for Immigrants and a member of the ICE Out of California Coalition, sent an email to Gov. Newsom’s office, urging him to meet with formerly incarcerated people who had firsthand experience with this. Hernandez said the office ignored the email and all follow ups she had sent about it.

“We have done the work to address everyone’s concerns, to make the bill something that everybody could get behind, and then have the governor veto it at the last minute, is crazy, because then it feels like, well, what is it that we can do?” Hernandez said. “The fact that the governor vetoed it really speaks volumes as to where he stands with the immigrant community.”

Hernandez said that the ICE Out of California Coalition is pushing for a veto override, a process that would involve overturning Newsom’s decision if two thirds majority votes in both the House and the Senate vote in favor of the bill. 

In a statement released following the veto, Carrillo said that the state legislature had never intended to exclude immigrants from restorative justice policies such as the resentencing reforms.

“AB1306 was a very narrow fix in law, three years in the making, to ensure the legislature’s intention of allowing uniquely affected Californians to return to their communities and families and rebuild their lives after serving their time [in prison],” Carrillo wrote in the statement. “Instead, they will continue facing indefinite incarceration in immigration detention, which is a sentence that was never handed down by a criminal court or a judge.”

“I am committed to re-introducing the policy and end a dual system of injustice in California that treats immigrants as less than and unworthy of a second chance,” she added.

A CDCR representative previously told ScheerPost that there were 6,058 people in state prisons with a CDCR “potential hold” and 7,037 more facing ICE detainment as of July 2023, which means their hold was verified and processed by ICE. This means about 13% of the prison population is facing some sort of immigration hold.

“CDCR is currently making changes to the way the department communicates with ICE as a federal law enforcement agency, including limiting communications only when an individual enters prison and is approaching their release date,” a CDCR representative wrote in an email to ScheerPost on Sept. 14. 

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.”

Transfers to ICE create family separation and trauma, and in some cases, can be a death sentence by sending somebody to a violent country they haven’t been to since they were young, if at all, according to Hernandez.

“One of the people that I’m supporting that’s incarcerated in a California State Prison said he’s watched his friends work so hard to earn their release, finally earn it, be deported and then killed in the country they’ve never known,” Hernandez told ScheerPost.

Hernandez said that the ICE Out of California Coalition is pushing for a veto override, a process that would involve overturning Newsom’s decision if two thirds majority votes in both the House and the Senate vote in favor of the bill. They are currently in the process of gathering support from elected officials to support the veto override. 

“It’s a point we need to drive home, we need to let the governor know that this isn’t something that we’re willing to let go of,” Hernandez said. “We personally deal with people every day that are in removal proceedings, people that are incarcerated that are coming home to have ICE holds. We’re not going to give up.”

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Victoria Valenzuela

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.

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