Feds Challenge California’s Oversight of ICE Detention

2 min
A guard escorts an immigrant detainee at the Adelanto Detention Facility in Adelanto, California. (John Moore/Getty Images)

The federal government sued Tuesday to block a California law that empowers the state’s attorney general to inspect facilities holding immigrants facing deportation. It’s one of three laws the U.S. Department of Justice is seeking to overturn, saying they are a deliberate effort to obstruct federal immigration enforcement.

The lawsuit came the day before U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke to a meeting of California law enforcement officials, where he fiercely criticized the recent state laws as "irrational, unfair, unconstitutional policies."

In the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, federal officials wrote that Assembly Bill 103 “constitutes an improper, significant intrusion into federal enforcement of the immigration laws.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, at a press conference Wednesday, defended the law granting state oversight of ICE facilities.

“Our residents and our public officials have a right to know the conditions under which people are detained in these facilities,” Becerra said. “Those conditions include whether they are be treated properly, whether they have access to necessary medical care, whether they have access to an attorney, if they have an attorney, and whether or not they are being afforded due process. ”

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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds 20 contracts for detention services with local governments in California, to provide guaranteed housing for detainees as needed. ICE regularly houses detainees at nine of the 20 facilities, according to court documents -- in Contra Costa, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego and Yuba counties.

State Sen. Ricardo Lara became alarmed in recent years after receiving repeated reports of inhumane, unsanitary conditions in some of the facilities, and hearing allegations that detainees’ due process rights were violated.

In 2017 the Los Angeles Democrat introduced Senate Bill 29 to block the expansion of immigrant detention in the state. The law prohibits local entities from contracting with for-profit operators to detain immigrants. Lara sponsored AB 103 as a companion measure to stop local governments from expanding or establishing new detention contracts with ICE. The measure also gave the state attorney general powers to inspect detention facilities, with full access to immigrants, staff and relevant documents.

“Stopping the growth of immigrant jails is about human rights, plain and simple,” Lara said in a statement responding to the federal lawsuit.

"Our residents and our public officials have a right to know the conditions under which people are detained in these facilities," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said. He spoke at a news conference along with Gov. Brown at the state Capitol on Wednesday.
"Our residents and our public officials have a right to know the conditions under which people are detained in these facilities," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said. He spoke at a news conference along with Gov. Brown at the state Capitol on Wednesday. (Stephen Lam/Getty Images)

But U.S. Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad Readler argued in the complaint that the law wrongly establishes “an inspection and review scheme that requires the Attorney General of California to investigate the immigration and enforcement efforts of federal agents.”

He said the U.S. government already conducts its own review of detention standards, carried out by a division of ICE.

Readler argued that the law granting California officials oversight of ICE detention violates the primary authority of the federal government to detain immigrants for deportation.

“The provisions of state law at issue have the purpose and effect of making it more difficult for federal immigration officers to carry out their responsibilities in California,” Readler wrote.

The federal complaint emphasized that the Department of Homeland Security, though ICE and Customs and Border Protection, "performs a significant portion of its law enforcement activities in California.”

In fiscal year 2017 ICE detained nearly 42,000 noncitizens in the state.

The federal government is seeking a permanent injunction against AB 103 and two other California laws, Senate Bill 54 and Assembly Bill 450, that limited California’s participation in federal enforcement actions. The state has 21 days to reply.

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