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Advocates Vow to Fight On After Newsom Vetoes Bill to End Some Transfers From Prison to ICE

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A person with long hair speaks into a microphone while surrounded by a crowd in an outdoor setting.
Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo speaks at a rally in Sacramento on June 21, 2022. (Courtesy of Joyce Xi)

Lawmakers and immigrant advocates vow to persist after Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have protected some immigrants from federal authorities if they’re released from prison under state criminal justice reforms.

State Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), the bill’s author, said she was disappointed in Newsom’s decision to veto AB 1306, known as the HOME Act, saying collaboration with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement amounts to “double punishment” for immigrants who have earned parole.

“It was never the intention of the Legislature to exclude immigrants from restorative justice reform policies,” Carrillo said. “I am committed to re-introducing the policy and ending a dual system of justice in California that treats immigrants as less than and unworthy of a second chance.”

The bill would have required the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to let noncitizens return to their homes and communities, as U.S. citizens do, if they earn clemency from the governor or resentencing under recent laws aimed at rehabilitation and reducing mass incarceration and racial disparities in sentencing.

Under current practice, prison officials alert federal authorities and arrange to transfer noncitizen inmates to immigration custody upon their release. Even longtime legal residents with green cards can spend months or years in ICE detention, and many are eventually deported.

Newsom vetoed the bill Friday evening and issued a statement explaining the decision.

“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,” he wrote. “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.”

Advocates called Newsom’s veto a calculated move to protect his presidential aspirations. A statement from the ICE Out of California Coalition reads in part: “We denounce Gov. Newsom’s cruel, callous and cowardly decision to veto this common-sense solution. When policy-making is driven by vanity and crass ambition rather than sound judgment, all Californians suffer.”

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Under federal immigration law, even legal permanent residents can lose their lawful status and be deported if they have committed certain crimes. Nothing in the state bill would have prevented ICE from locating those people after they returned home. But it would have restricted 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. But the HOME Act overwhelmingly passed both the state Assembly and Senate this year. It would have shielded incarcerated people from ICE if they qualified for release under criminal justice reform bills signed by Newsom and former Gov. Jerry Brown, including:

  • Elderly people or those suffering severe medical conditions.
  • People whose crimes were committed in their youth and have already served long sentences.
  • People whose crimes were a direct result of suffering sexual assault or domestic violence.

Several states, including Oregon, Illinois, plus Washington, D.C., have already enacted legislation to restrict prison-to-ICE transfers.

Law enforcement groups that had opposed the broader VISION Act took no position on the HOME Act, so the bill faced no organized opposition.

In California, sanctuary laws prevent local police and sheriffs from cooperating in immigration enforcement much of the time. But there’s a broad exemption for prisons. CDCR documents recently obtained under public records laws by the ACLU of Northern California show that in just two months last year California turned over 200 people to ICE after they’d served their time in prison. In addition, the records show, incarcerated people who have been flagged for ICE are barred from many re-entry programs in prison.

“The Governor may claim that he supports rehabilitation and second chances,” said the ICE Out of California Coalition. “Yet he cannot praise rehabilitation in one breath, but condone the racist targeting of immigrants for detention and deportation in the next.”

One person who knows the toll of the current policy is Los Angeles resident Sandra Castañeda. She served 19 years of a 40-year murder sentence she received for driving a van out of which a man shot and killed someone. But her conviction was vacated after California reformed a law that had caused people like her to be sentenced for murders they did not commit. In addition, Newsom commuted her sentence, based on her rehabilitation in prison.

But instead of going home, Castañeda, who’s had a legal green card since she was 9, spent an additional year in ICE detention fighting until her deportation case was dropped by an immigration judge last year. She said she feels devastated for other immigrants who will suffer a similar fate.

“It’s like a slap in the face,” she said of the governor’s veto. “He commuted me! We’ve been rehabilitated, and then you want us to get deported? But the fight doesn’t stop here. Hopefully someday somebody will realize that this law should pass.”

Meanwhile, another criminal justice bill that was well on its way to the governor’s desk was pulled back at the last minute. Lawmakers carrying the California Mandela Act (AB 280) — a bill to restrict the use of solitary confinement in jails, prisons and ICE facilities — decided to make it a two-year bill after indications that Newsom would veto it.

The bill had passed the Assembly and the state Senate but the two houses have yet to concur on amendments. But the Mandela Act faces opposition from law enforcement groups. Supporters of that bill say they will try to establish a productive dialogue with Newsom and move it forward next year.

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