California lawmakers reject bill that aims to stop prison-to-ICE transfers

  • VISION Act (AB 937) fell three votes short of the 21 it needed to pass in the California Senate on Wednesday.
  • Introduced by Assemblymember Wendy Carillo last year, the legislation aims to bar state prisons from transferring inmates to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody after they finish serving their sentences.
  • Asian immigrants Bounchan Keola and Kao Saelee, who worked as incarcerated firefighters, were among those taken by ICE custody after being released.
  • Supporters of the bill say the inmates have already served their time and deserve a chance to restart their lives.
  • Critics, on the other hand, believe they continue to be a threat to society, especially those with violent criminal history.
  • With the Senate rejection, the bill returns to the Assembly for a final vote before heading to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.

A bill that would bar California jails from moving inmates to federal immigration custody after completing their prison sentences was rejected by the state Senate on Wednesday.

The legislation, known as the VISION Act (AB 937), received an 18-13 roll call in the Senate. Four Democrats and nine Republicans opposed the bill, which fell three votes short of the 21 needed for its passage. 

Assemblymember Wendy Carillo introduced the bill last year. It follows the transfer of more than 1,400 inmates to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers in 2020, as per the advocacy group Asian Prisoner Support Committee.

Two high-profile cases of ICE detention involve Asian immigrants Bounchan Keola and Kao Saelee, who worked as firefighters while serving their sentences. Both received pardons from Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Others have not been so lucky. Since being released in 2019, Vietnamese immigrant An Thanh Nguyen has allegedly been taken by ICE three times, the last of which was ruled to be an action in contempt of court.

“They tricked me to come and then they put me back in detention to deport me,” Nguyen said, as per LAist. “I told [the officer] I had a court order to prevent me from being deported. But ICE did not listen to me, did not care.” Nguyen sued ICE in March.

Carillo said a citizen or a refugee who served their time has the right to be treated equally. Supporters in the Senate echoed the sentiment.

“They paid their debt to the state of California, they did their time,” said State Sen. Scott Wiener, a co-sponsor of the bill. He also accused the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation of “flipping us the bird” when legislators hold the power to set sentences.

State Sen. Richard Pan acknowledged the harm the current practice does against the AAPI community, calling for an end to this “violence.”

“Yes, they made mistakes as young people and they were incarcerated and punished but have transformed decades later,” he said.

Law enforcement groups, on the other hand, opposed the bill, while corrections officials also estimated that the bill could cost an additional $22 million per year to supervise over 2,500 parolees.

With the Senate rejection, the bill returns to the Assembly for a final vote before heading to Newsom’s desk. However, the governor himself vetoed similar legislation in 2019, saying it could “negatively impact prison operations.”

Featured Image via California Assembly Democrats

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