Wednesday, a bill that would stop state or local law enforcement from arresting or assisting in arresting in transferring prisoners for immigration enforcement reasons was given tentative Assembly committee dates.
Assembly Bill 937, authored by Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) would prohibit state and local agencies, such as state prison employees and law enforcement, from arresting or facilitating the arrest, confinement, detention, transfer, interrogation, or deportation of an individual for an immigration enforcement purpose. Immigration status would also not longer be a factor in denying placement in certain probation or credit earning programs while in prison.
AB 937 will also no longer require the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to identify inmates in state prisons who are undocumented felons subject to deportation, nor will they require reporting of those statistics to the state Legislature. State and local criminal offender information systems will also see a major change, no longer requiring that place of birth be listed as it would help more easily identify immigrants.
Assemblywoman Carrillo largely wrote the law to stop CDCR prisons from transferring inmates to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody as federal law currently allows the deportation of immigrants who have been convicted of certain crimes. While local law enforcement is currently prohibited from working with ICE on certain crimes due to the passage of SB 54, also known as the California Values Act, in 2017, it did now extend to state prison officials, allowing federal deportations to continue from the state level of California for the last four years. According to the Asian Prisoner Support Committee, this allowed more than 1,400 immigrant criminals to be deported in 2020 alone.
“It is time to end the double punishment of immigrant Californians,” noted Assemblywoman Carrillo last week. “We do not need to devote valuable time and resources on unnecessary ICE transfers.”
AB 937, also called the VISION Act, quickly gained support since being introduced last week, getting 6 additional co-authors in as many days and moving up quickly for committee introduction despite not being COVID-19 affiliated like most other bills this session. An online conference on Wednesday with Carrillo, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), and other lawmakers further bolstered support numbers.
“Let’s do this,” tweeted Assemblywoman Carrillo on Wednesday. “The [VISION Act] will be a game changer for immigrants and restorative justice. Proud to author this legislation and work with so many incredible advocates.”
Let’s do this. The #ValuesAct will be a game changer for immigrants and restorative justice. Proud to author this legislation and work with so many incredible advocates. 💪🏼 #StopIceTransfers https://t.co/Js0DKpSSU3
— WendyCarrillo (@wendycarrillo) February 24, 2021
Problems with AB 937
While many have opposed the bill, including many prison workers groups, experts note that even with the passage of AB 937 the federal government still has many other ways to deport immigrants with criminal records.
“This is one loophole on a string filled with loopholes,” former immigration lawyer James Van Horn told the Globe. “So state prisons can’t get them directly. It’s still federal law though. So once they are out they can be nabbed. Or if they’re out on bail. Basically what the state is doing is basically giving them time in prison before being deported with this bill.”
“California legislators like to think that they’re defeating ICE this way, but they really aren’t. They like to say that they are stopping deportations, but the reality is that they still happen all the time and have gone up in the state since 2017. They only dropped last year due to the pandemic, not because of policy. And even that 100 day deportation block that President Biden installed when he was sworn in. That’s being fought back and forth in the courts right now, and once that is over with in the 100 days or less, ICE is going to have a field day. I know from talking with ICE officers before that they work up lists during down time, so it’s only going to climb right back up.”
“All the state is doing with this bill is saying that the immigrants who committed crimes need to serve time in jail first before being deported. It’s just another step. So when they are deported, they go in to that country not only with a criminal record, but also several years of down time from whatever they had done for work. If they were looking for a way to hurt immigrants more, they found it.”
AB 937 is due to be assigned a committee in the coming weeks.
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