Republican Assembymember Van Tran (Costa Mesa) wants to help the state’s budget crisis by having Califorinia prisons verify the immigration status of new prisoners.
Caroline B. Sanders of the California Immigrant Policy Center has written a letter to Assemblymember Jose Solorio, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Public Safety, in opposition to Tran’s bill, AB 2141. The Equal Justice Society opposes the measure and is signing on to the letter. What follows below is an edited version of Caroline’s letter.
AB 2141 would require the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to verify the immigration status of any new prisoner under the custody of the department, cooperate with Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and on ICE laws and regulations. This bill effectively requires the Department to take on federal responsibilities for the enforcement of immigration laws and diverts limited state resources away from pressing problems within the state correctional system.
Immigration laws are extremely complex, even more complicated than the tax code, and state and local officials can hardly be expected to enforce them appropriately. Compounding the inevitable lack of resources for sufficient training of state personnel, this bill invites heightened scrutiny and racial profiling of selected ethnic minorities in the state prison system. The unavoidable mistakes made by ill-prepared state and local officials in determining an individual’s immigration status can be costly, resulting in lawsuits and protracted litigation.
Additionally, the bill offers little clarity or guidance as to how state officials would identify the immigration status of California’s inmates. Only federal immigration courts are competent to determine the immigration status of individuals, and these determinations are generally not made by courts until deportation or “removal proceedings” are initiated, usually after an inmate has completed his or her sentence in state prison.
California can ill afford to divert limited resources away from pressing problems with the state correctional system, including overcrowding, a complete breakdown in medical treatment of inmates and huge parole hearing backlogs, to embroil state officials in a time-consuming venture that remains the legal responsibility of the federal government, not California.
State correctional officials need to stick to their essential job of promoting the public safety of Californians – overseeing the incarceration, parole, and rehabilitation of the state’s prisoners – not taking on the responsibilities of federal authorities.