Lawmakers announce state Justice Dept. to review conditions of immigration detention facilities

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California budget also blocks new or expanded detention contracts with city and county jails and increases oversight

SACRAMENTO, CA – Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced recently that the California Department of Justice will begin reviewing the conditions under which immigrants are civilly detained in California while they await immigration hearings.

The California Department of Justice will assess the conditions of confinement and due process concerns of immigrants detained in private, city, and county facilities. A California budget bill passed on June 15 calls for the Department of Justice to deliver a report on conditions by March 2019, with ongoing reviews until 2027.

The budget action will also block city and county jails from entering into new contracts or expanding existing contracts. This limit will go into effect June 15, 2017, when Governor Jerry Brown signs it into law.

“America is a nation of immigrants, and whether you arrived recently or have lived here for generations, you deserve to be treated fairly under our Constitution and laws,” said Lara. “If the federal government won’t ensure the safety and humane treatment of people held in detention in California, we must do that job and stand up for human rights.”

California holds the second largest number of individuals civilly detained for immigration purposes, after Texas. The number of people arrested under immigration laws increased 38 percent in the first 100 days of the Trump Administration, thousands of whose only offense was being undocumented.

“We need a clear understanding of the conditions of detention facilities housing civil immigration detainees,” said Becerra. “California is once again setting a precedent for others to follow. As chief law enforcement officer, it is my duty to uphold the law. I will always protect the basic rights of all Californians, including immigrants.”

Three people have died in the privately operated Adelanto Detention Facility since March, and a report by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) inspector general found conditions in an Orange County jail that violated national detention standards and posed serious health risks, including solitary confinement of low-risk detainees and rotten meat.

The Legislature is working to combat the problem on several fronts. Senator Lara is the author of Senate Bill 29, which would stop California cities from profiting from contracts with private detention facilities and allow the Department of Justice and local prosecutors to take legal action to enforce ICE detention standards, in addition to the review approved today. SB 29 was approved by the Senate and is scheduled for a hearing in the Assembly Committee on the Judiciary.

“Now that the Trump administration is seeking to drastically expand immigration detention, immigrants in California need immediate relief,” said Grisel Ruiz, staff attorney at the Immigrant Legal Rights Center, a co-sponsor of SB 29. “The budget action boldly responds by preventing the immigration detention machine in California from growing and by casting a watchful eye of oversight on all detention facilities across the state. Our state’s leaders have sent a clear message to Washington, D.C. that California chooses to lead with dignity, not detention.”

The detention review provision included in the budget was proposed by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Alameda) during a budget subcommittee meeting.

“The budget vote sends a very loud and clear message that we will not allow the Trump administration to operate with impunity behind locked doors,” said Christina Fialho, a California-based attorney and the co-founder/executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), a co-sponsor of SB 29. “California detains the most immigrants after Texas, and about a quarter of all people in immigration detention pass through California detention facilities each year. What we do here in California has a direct effect on the national immigration detention context. We hope that this bill inspires others states to follow.”

Immigrant detention is governed by ICE, which has proposed to expand civil immigrant detention in local jails and private prisons.



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