California Lawmakers Want To End The Prison-To-ICE Pipeline

State lawmakers are pushing a bill to prevent law enforcement from transferring people upon their release from prison to immigration detention.

California lawmakers want to stop the practice of law enforcement transferring immigrants straight out of prison into immigration detention — or what Democrats are calling “double punishment.”

State Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D) held a virtual press conference Wednesday discussing the VISION Act, a bill she authored that would ban law enforcement from transferring immigrants being released from prison or jail to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for detention or deportation.

The bill notes that when California’s prisons and jails transfer immigrants and refugees to ICE after they’ve completed their sentences, “they subject these community members to double punishment and further trauma.”

Existing law prohibits transferring people from jail or prison to immigration authorities, unless they’ve been convicted of certain crimes or felonies.

“They are subjecting them to a second punishment that does not apply to other Californians,” Carrillo said of immigrants who’ve done their time and are then handed over to ICE. “If it wasn’t for where they were born, these Californians would be able to return home.”

From January through May alone in 2020, California’s Department of Corrections transferred about 1,400 people to ICE, according to an analysis by the Asian Law Caucus. In 2018 and 2019, California counties sent more than 3,700 people from local jails to ICE.

Meanwhile, California’s criminal justice system disproportionately impacts people of color. For instance, while only 7% of immigrants in the U.S. are Black, Black immigrants made up 20% of those facing deportation on criminal grounds in 2016, according to the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

Liyah Birru, an immigrant from Ethiopia and domestic violence survivor, was incarcerated in California after shooting her husband, which she maintained was in self-defense. After being released from prison, she was transferred to ICE, which held her in custody for 18 months in Yuba County jail.

In a video played during Wednesday’s press conference, Birru described the “mental and emotional torture” of being detained by immigration, particularly as COVID-19 spread in the facility where she was held.

“I feared for my life,” Birru said. “Why should we have to be punished twice after serving our time?”

While she is “so grateful” she has since been released, she said she still fears ICE will come any day to arrest and deport her.

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D) noted at the press conference that California’s Corrections Department is under no legal obligation to turn people over to ICE once they’ve been released from custody, and does so simply on a voluntary basis.

“That raised the question of: Why is California doing this?” Wiener said. “When people have committed crimes and done their time … why are we continuing to punish them by voluntarily turning them over to ICE, so that they can continue to be torn apart from their families?”

A family member spoke about Gabriela Solano’s case, a domestic violence survivor who is incarcerated and faces transfer to ICE next month.

“There isn’t much time until ICE comes and gets her,” said James Perez, Solano’s nephew, urging people to call and write to Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to prevent the woman from being handed over to ICE. “At home, we can help her get her life moving forward.”

Perez expressed hope that Carrillo’s legislation would prevent other families from going through similar trauma. Carrillo said that while she is hopeful the bill will advance, it will still “require a lot of work” to get it to the governor’s desk.

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