“Whether you are an American citizen or … a refugee, if you have served your time, you have a right to be treated equally in the state of California,” Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, D-Los Angeles, argued in support of her bill, AB 937, in advance of the Senate's consideration. She said the state's current policy “has created a dual justice system” that allows for deportations.
Supporters in the Senate said it’s unfair that people who have served their time are subjected to more punishment because they are not citizens, a process they argue effectively inflicts “double punishment.” Many are U.S. residents who fled Southeast Asia as children with their families after the Vietnam War and landed in impoverished and violent neighborhoods, they said.
Activists rallied unsuccessfully last month to stop immigration officials from deporting Phoeun You, a man who had been granted parole earlier this year after spending a quarter century behind bars at San Quentin State Prison for a 1995 homicide. You, 48, was sent to Cambodia, a country he hadn't set foot in since he was 4 years old, when his family fled the Khmer Rouge genocide in the 1970s.
“Yes, they made mistakes as young people and they were incarcerated and punished, but have transformed decades later,” said state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento. “It’s time to end this violence against the AAPI community.”
State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is being “incredibly arrogant” and basically “flipping us the bird” when lawmakers and voters have the power to set sentences for crimes.
“They paid their debt to the state of California, they did their time,” Wiener said.
More than 300 faith leaders signed a letter supporting the bill, which also had the backing of United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta.
"What is happening right now is totally inhumane,” Huerta said during an online news conference before the Senate's consideration. “This is double jeopardy.”
The bill's supporters held it out as another litmus test for Newsom, a Democrat frequently mentioned as a possible presidential contender.
Salvador Sarmiento, legislative director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said the measure “is a test whether Gavin Newsom is the type of leadership the country needs right now.”
KQED's Matthew Green and Tyche Hendricks contributed reporting to this story.