A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent stands in Hawthorne, Calif., on March 1, 2020. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill on Sept. 22 that would have blocked the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from sharing the release schedule of some illegal immigrant inmates with the Department of Homeland Security and customs officials, who normally use such information for deportation purposes.
At issue is Assembly Bill 1306, authored by Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), which sought to block collaboration and transfers between state prison authorities and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) for inmates convicted of certain offenses or being released with qualifying conditions.
Citing existing law and concern that the measure would affect a “significant number of people” as reasons for the veto, the governor noted that progress is needed on the issue and the corrections department already limits communications to when illegal immigrants enter prison and are approaching their release dates.
“I believe current law strikes the right balance on limiting interaction to support community trust and cooperation between law enforcement and local communities,” Mr. Newsom said in his veto letter. “For this reason, I cannot sign this bill. However, as an Administration, we recognize that improvements in this process are important.”
With the 2018 implementation of Senate Bill 54—known as the California Values Act—state law enforcement agencies are prevented from sharing resources and coordinating with federal immigration enforcement efforts. That bill was an expansion of the state’s Trust Act, which took effect in 2014 and prevents inmate holds for immigration purposes.
Since the corrections department isn’t a law enforcement agency, existing legislation doesn’t apply to its operations. The vetoed bill attempted to regulate the department with similar guidelines.
The governor’s veto of the legislation, which was co-authored by seven fellow Democrats, was met with frustration from its principal author.
“I am disappointed in Governor Newsom’s decision,” Ms. Carrillo said in a statement posted Sept. 22 on X, formerly known as Twitter. “It was never the intention of the Legislature to exclude immigrants from restorative justice reform policies.”
California Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, D-Los Angeles, speaks at a hearing of the Assembly Judiciary Committee in Sacramento, Calif., on March 28, 2023. (Screenshot via California State Assembly)
Written to offer incarcerated illegal immigrants similar protections provided to other inmates in criminal justice reform measures passed by lawmakers in recent years—designed to reduce the prison population—the author says her bill is necessary to restore equality in the system.
“[This bill] 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,” Ms. Carrillo said. “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.”
Dozens of organizations sponsored the legislation, including SEIU California—a group of local unions that represents more than 700,000 members—the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
“Solely because of their place of birth, immigrants and refugees who would otherwise benefit from these reforms approved by the Legislature are instead released to ICE and subjected to the double punishment of ICE detention and deportation,” the California Coalition for Women Prisoners wrote in support in a legislative analysis.
“Moreover, this unjust practice perpetuates a criminal legal system that treats individuals unequally simply because of where they were born. The state’s role in voluntarily sending California residents to the custody of ICE undercuts our progress towards a more equitable society, and unfairly targets immigrants and refugees.”
Because it has the largest population of immigrants in the nation, some argue that California’s policies are significant for the country, suggesting that the state has an opportunity to lead national discussions.
“California has an ethical and moral obligation to be a national leader that ensures the steps the state has already taken towards reforming our criminal legal system includes our immigrants and refugee communities,” the group wrote. “Harmonizing broadly-supported reforms to ensure equal application to immigrants and refugees will reunite families, strengthen communities, and fulfill the state’s commitment to addressing racial injustice and upholding our values of fairness and equality.”
While no groups were listed in opposition to the bill, Republican lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly repeatedly voted against the legislation.
Ms. Carrillo said she plans to reintroduce the proposal as early as 2024.
“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.”