Asian American group pushes back on veto of bill to protect California inmates from deportation

California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the bill that would have barred the prison system from using resources to assist private prison corporations conducting immigration arrests.
Image: Twin Towers Correctional Facility
Research shows that in the 1990s, following mass resettlements due to the Vietnam War, the Asian American and Pacific Islander inmate population ballooned by 250 percent. Chris Carlson / AP file

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By Kimmy Yam

An Asian American legal group has hit back at Gov. Gavin Newsom’s veto of an immigration enforcement bill that would have prohibited California’s state prisons from helping Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrest individuals in the system's custody.

The bill, AB 1282, would have barred the state from using resources to assist private prison corporations in immigration. G4S, one such global corporation that ICE contracts with to transport immigration detainees, conducts roughly one-third of the immigration arrests of those released from the state’s custody.

Nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus sent a cease-and-desist letter to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on Tuesday, calling on the agency to stop unlawful immigration practices.

In the letter, the legal group pointed out that G4S has carried out warrantless immigration arrests at state prisons, even though federal law does not grant private security guards the authority to do so. The letter also alleges that in several instances, the CDCR transferred individuals to prisons closer to ICE offices prior to their parole dates with the intent to facilitate an arrest, violating the agency’s own regulations.

Anoop Prasad, a staff attorney for the nonprofit, explained that the governor’s refusal to sign the bill is particularly concerning for the Asian American immigrant community, considering the high rates of incarceration among the Southeast Asian refugee and Pacific Islander populations.

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“Given Gov. Newsom's stated commitment to immigrant rights, allowing formerly incarcerated people to successfully reenter society, and opposition to privatized incarceration, the veto authorizing continued unlawful collusion with ICE is perplexing,” he told NBC News of the veto, which occurred Friday.

While California is a sanctuary state, limiting the extent local law enforcement can work with authorities to implement federal immigration law, existing state legislation does not prohibit the Department of Corrections from working with ICE, Prasad noted. However, the law does not authorize the CDCR to unlawfully help ICE either.

Currently, an estimated 12,000 noncitizens are serving in the state’s prisons and will face deportation upon release, Prasad said.The Southeast Asian community has been particularly vulnerable under the current policies as the group has had to confront what experts call the migration-to-school-to-prison-to-deportation pipeline.

After their resettlement from the Vietnam War, Southeast Asian refugees were provided little support to appropriately start over in the United States. Some in the community cite the lack of resources for why some refugees were caught in the prevalent cycle of dropping out of school, engaging in serious crimes and later facing deportation.

Research shows that in the 1990s, following mass resettlements due to the Vietnam War, the Asian American and Pacific Islander inmate population ballooned by 250 percent. Laotians and Vietnamese stood among the top four most arrested groups in 1990 in the San Francisco Bay Area. Moreover, Southeast Asian immigrants are three to four times more likely to be deported for old criminal convictions compared to other groups of immigrants.

“Centuries of racist exclusion laws have resulted in API communities that are disproportionately noncitizens and as a result disproportionately impacted by deportation policies,” Prasad said.

In his rationale for the veto, Newsom wrote he was “concerned” the bill would "hinder and delay needed transfers between facilities for myriad situation-specific reasons" due to its restrictions on the CDCR's ability to transfer inmates between state prisons and its prohibition of the agency from allowing a private security company on the premises for immigration enforcement. However the cease-and-desist letter states the bill only codifies an existing CDCR regulation.

“The governor stated that the bill would burden the prison system. Currently, the burden is borne by immigrant communities that are being torn apart,” Prasad said. “Requiring the prison system to obey the law is not a burden.”

The nonprofit said it is awaiting a response from the governor and the CDCR. The state prison agency did not return NBC News’ request for comment.

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