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A Bill to Stop Some Prison-to-ICE Transfers Heads to Newsom's Desk

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A line of individuals are shown from their wrists down. Their hands are shackles with handcuffs. They are incarcerated individuals seemingly on their way to be transported to a different area.
On average, nearly 1,600 people come out of state prison each year with an immigration detainer that leads to their transfer to ICE to be deported, according to an estimate by state Senate staff. (John Moore/Getty Images)

The California Legislature took steps Monday to close an exception to the state’s sanctuary laws and offer incarcerated immigrants the same opportunity as U.S. citizens to restart their lives upon release from prison.

By a vote of 29–9, the California state Senate gave final approval to a bill that would bar state officials from turning some immigrants over to federal authorities when they’re granted parole. The bill, known as the HOME Act, now goes to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. He has until Oct. 14 to decide whether to sign it into law.

Passage is a victory for advocates, who have pressed for years to end the practice by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation of flagging foreign-born people in its custody and, after they’ve served their times, transferring them to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for detention and possible deportation.

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“The existing state sanctuary laws have not covered people in CDCR custody, and that’s been heartbreaking for a lot of families who’ve been separated because an individual obtained release from state prison but then was handed over to ICE,” said Angela Chan, an immigration expert at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office who helped craft the bill. “To have the HOME Act pass the Legislature, and hopefully, get signed by the governor, means we’re going to make a significant dent in covering this glaring gap.”

AB 1306 would bar prison-to-ICE transfers specifically for people who win clemency from the governor or are released from prison under any of several criminal justice reform laws recently enacted in California.

The bill’s author, Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Echo Park), said she was elated by the overwhelming support for the bill, which would allow immigrants to benefit from recent laws that aim to reduce over-incarceration and racial disparities in sentencing.

“It was never the intent of the Legislature to create a dual system of justice that treats immigrants differently and as second-class individuals,” she said. “We now look to the governor in putting a stop to this inhumane practice, which results in the indefinite incarceration of justice-impacted individuals when transferred to immigration detention centers to serve an additional sentence that is never handed down by a criminal court or a judge.”

Under federal immigration law, even legal permanent residents with green cards can lose their lawful status and be deported if they have committed certain crimes. Nothing in the state bill prevents ICE from locating those people after they return home, but it reduces the state’s role in cooperating with ICE’s enforcement efforts.

The HOME Act is more limited than a different bill last year, the VISION Act, which would have blocked all transfers from prison to ICE. That bill narrowly failed in the state Legislature last August after three Democratic senators joined Republicans to vote against the bill and nine others abstained from voting. A number of those Democrats voted in support of the HOME Act on Monday.

One was Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman.

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“Last year’s bill was far more expansive than I could support due to public safety concerns,” Eggman told KQED. “This year’s bill is a more measured approach that protects immigrants and helps keep families together without putting public safety at risk.”

ICE officials say the agency does not comment on pending legislation.

The Peace Officers Research Association of California opposed the broader VISION Act last year, but chose not to take a position on the HOME Act.

On average, nearly 1,600 people come out of state prison each year with an immigration detainer that leads to their transfer to ICE to be deported, according to an estimate by state Senate staff.

The HOME Act would bar prisons from handing over noncitizens to ICE who are being released as a result of several criminal justice reforms signed by Gov. Newsom or his predecessor, Jerry Brown. They include:

  • People eligible for compassionate release or parole because they are older or suffering severe medical conditions.
  • People eligible for early parole after serving a set amount of time because their crimes were committed in their youth.
  • People whose crimes were a direct result of having been victims of sexual assault or domestic violence.
  • People eligible for release because they demonstrate that racial bias affected their case.
  • People eligible for resentencing because they were originally convicted under the felony murder rule but did not kill anyone.

The bill would also protect people whose sentences were commuted by the governor. And, where the unsuccessful VISION Act also would have banned transfers from local jails to ICE, the HOME Act only focuses on restricting transfers by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, or CDCR.

In coming weeks, advocates plan to press Newsom to support the bill, and Chan noted that it passed both the Senate and Assembly with veto-proof supermajorities.

“We are going to hold his feet to the fire and make sure that we strongly encourage him to sign the HOME Act into law,” she said. “He certainly hasn’t said anything yet, so we’re reading the tea leaves. But we’re pretty hopeful because the bills have passed the legislature with no opposition.”

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