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Attempt To Stop Prison-To-ICE Transfers Fails In California Legislature

An Asian American woman stands on the steps of a building in downtown holding a mic as people around her hold signs that read "Abolish ICE" and "Stop ICE Transfers."
Ny Nourn, co-director of the Asian Prisoner Support Committee, speaking at a March 28 rally in support of the VISION Act in downtown L.A.
(Josie Huang
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California lawmakers late Wednesday rejected a bill that in most cases would have stopped state prisons and jails from transferring non-citizens to federal immigration authorities after they had completed their sentences — what advocates say amounts to a “double punishment.”

The so-called VISION ACT fell three votes short of the 21 needed for passage, with critics voicing fears that formerly-incarcerated immigrants would commit more crimes.

“I am not convinced rehabilitation happens,” said State Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), “I want someone to have eyes on people before they come back out into the community.”

State Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, countered: "I believe that the hesitancy around this bill is because of a fear of Brown people.”

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“Criminal behavior is not relegated to someone who's an immigrant or refugee,” said Kamlager.

Eighteen senators voted in support, 13 in opposition. Nine abstained, all Democrats, most of them representing L.A. and Orange counties.

The ICE Out of California coalition of groups supporting immigrant rights issued a statement minutes after the vote saying "we pledge to continue working day and night to end the practice of ICE transfers."

The defeat of the bill "means that families across the state will continue to see long-awaited reunions with loved ones who have earned release from prison or jail turned into a nightmare of family separation and ICE detention," the coalition said.

The bill would have protected thousands of non-citizens who are in state prison with immigration holds. A public records request from the Asian Law Caucus showed the state prison system transferred nearly 2,200 people to ICE from Jan. 2020 to July 2021.

The VISION Act was intended to address what immigrant rights advocates saw as an omission in California's sanctuary law. Passed in 2017, the law restricts the ability of law enforcement in California to work with ICE when it comes to investigations and making arrests, but did not stop prison-to-ICE transfers.

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), another co-sponsor of the VISION Act, condemned the ICE transfers carried out by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“CDCR is flipping us the bird, with all due respect, by saying we don't care what sentences you, the policymakers, have set," Wiener said from the Senate floor Wednesday. “We're going to add on punishment, just for the heck of it, and get these people deported after they've done their sentence.”

Law enforcement groups opposed the bill, saying it would prevent them from sharing information with immigration authorities about people who had been convicted of violent crimes such as rape and murder.

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The VISION Act was first introduced last year by Assemblymember Wendy Carillo (D-Los Angeles). Lacking enough support in the Senate, it was carried over to this year. The Senate waited until the last day of the session to take a floor vote.

A strong coalition of Latino and Southeast Asian immigrant advocates have been lobbying undecided state senators over the last year, flooding their offices with calls right down to the last day.

Immigrants who had been incarcerated and fought their deportations were among those who became the faces of the the VISION Act campaign, which was backed by scores of groups such as the California Immigrant Policy Center, the Asian Prisoner Support Committee and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.