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Discrimination against immigrant prisoners in California, ACLU criticizes

Posted by Sara Cooper | Sep 05, 2023 | 0 Comments

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation oversees a discriminatory deportation program that targets immigrants, refugees and anyone believed to have been born outside the U.S., according to a report issued Tuesday.

The report — called Profile, Tag, Deport: CDCR Betrays California's Values — details the systematic method of discrimination that targets thousands of Californians who have served their time mentioned in a Courthouse News Service article. An investigation permitted by the Public Records Act discovered emails that CDCR had counted individuals with reporting them to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement based on racial bias including languages spoken and where they were born. They were considered “potential ICE holds” as a marked CDCR-invented category according to Courthouse News Service, resulting in not given education, training, rehabilitation, or other services that would assist them during their time while incarceration.

The report was published by the ACLU of Northern California; Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus; Asian Prisoner Support Committee; and Root & Rebound.

“We are learning more and more about how our state prison system is choosing to transfer Californians who have completed their sentences to ICE detention,” said Sana Singh, immigrants' rights fellow at the ACLU of Northern California, in a statement. “CDCR has, purely by its own initiative, invented a two-tiered system of incarceration that rips Californians from their home.”

The CDCR staff have placed many vulnerable people onto the ICE train, where deportation was a process that was not legal, whether or not they were American citizens. They would request ICE to see if they wanted any holds given from their part and had continued to until the agency responded. Detainment past sentencing for immigrant prisoners was also founded in the investigation, in order to increase the chances of deportation happening.

According to Courthouse News Service, “A technician at Avenal State Prison referred someone to ICE, even though the CDCR, arrest and prosecution records indicated they were born in California.” The technician, treating it as a joke, emailed ICE, asking, “should we put US citizen on a piece of paper fold it up and put it in a hat, and then write on another piece of paper Mexican, fold it up and also throw that in the hat and pick one,” the report's authors wrote.

By law, CDCR must receive written, informed consent from incarcerated people before scheduling an ICE interview, which are voluntary. Despite this, communication between the two agencies show that if someone declines an ICE interview, CDCR will still ask ICE if they want one.

It is a systematic issue within CDCR, being discriminatory and abusive towards immigrants, normalizing the overall mistreatment that immigrants receive whether in or outside of prison.

“CDCR's deportation practices fly in the face of California's pro-immigrant commitments,” Carl Takei, criminal justice reform program manager at the Asian Law Caucus, said in the statement. “Our state resources should be used to keep families together and communities whole.”

CDCR responded in an emailed statement that they are trying to alleviate these issues.

"By law, CDCR is responsible for collecting information regarding incarcerated people when they serve time in prison, including an individual's place of birth. CDCR is currently working to improve the way the department works with ICE through the regulatory process," the department said.

Authors of the report highly demand of the state's legislature to pass laws that would protect immigrant groups and communities. With support for AB 1306 called Harmonizing Our Measures for Equality (HOME) Act, written by Assemblyperson Wendy Carillo, it would ban CDCR being in collaboration with U.S. Department of Homeland Security whom ICE is a part of, including notifying them of immigrant prisoners or ones perceived as immigrants.

Under this bill, CDCR would be prohibited from detaining someone under the request of an immigration hold, provide release date information to an immigration official, or respond to a transfer request made by an immigration official.

“For the last three years, I have worked on ending the dual system of justice that double punishes immigrants who have served their time and have earned parole, both with AB 937, the Vision Act, and now AB 1306, the HOME Act," Carrillo said in a statement.

She added: "The crass reference of putting 'Mexican' or 'U.S. citizen' in a hat and picking one to determine an individual's future, while having documentation that the individual was born in California shows clear bias and discriminatory behavior that requires the Legislature to act and demand accountability from the very top at CDCR."

Ny Nourn, co-director of the Asian Prisoner Support Committee, called the HOME Act an opportunity to uphold Californians' belief in fairness and equality. If enacted, the HOME Act would apply only to individuals who qualify under criminal justice reforms recently passed in the state, including minors sentenced as adults and those who have been compassionately released, among others, mentioned by Courthouse News Service.

“With the HOME Act, immigrants who meet all of the requirements for release under broadly supported criminal justice laws will be able to return home to their families,” Nourn said in the statement.

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