SAN FRANCISCO - The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) systematically, and illegally, discriminates against immigrants, refugees, and anyone who prison officials suspect is born outside of the United States, a major Public Records Act investigation released today by civil rights groups reveals.
The report, Profile, Tag, Deport: CDCR Betrays California’s Values, analyzes over 2,500 previously unseen CDCR records and emails from August and September 2022. The documents illustrate how California’s largest state agency uses extensive resources to oversee a deportation program that targets thousands of Californians who have served their time and also regularly sweeps up U.S. citizens and green card holders. In two months, the agency transferred over 200 people from CDCR facilities to ICE custody.
“We are learning more and more about how our state prison system is choosing to transfer Californians who have completed their sentences to ICE detention,” said Sana Singh, immigrants’ rights fellow at the ACLU of Northern California. “CDCR has, purely by its own initiative, invented a two-tiered system of incarceration that rips Californians from their home.”
Emails between CDCR and ICE reveal that prison staff ignore their own records to flag people for ICE based on racist assumptions about their names, the languages they speak, and where they were born. When marked with a “potential ICE hold” – a category invented by CDCR – people are denied rehabilitation, training, education, and credit-earning opportunities, and have little to no recourse to challenge their treatment.
In one exchange, an official at Avenal State Prison joked “should we just put US citizen on a piece of paper fold it up and put it in a hat, and then write on another piece of paper Mexican, fold it up and also throw that in the hat and pick one.”
The records also show CDCR staff are willing to violate constitutional protections, holding people past their release date so that ICE can detain them. Several state prison facilities have a dedicated “ICE desk” whose entire job is facilitating deportations.
“CDCR’s deportation practices fly in the face of California’s pro-immigrant commitments,” said Carl Takei, Criminal Justice Reform Program Manager at the Asian Law Caucus, “Our state resources should be used to keep families together and communities whole.”
The report urges California to take immediate action by passing AB 1306, otherwise known as the Harmonizing Our Measures for Equality (HOME) Act. Authored by Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, the legislation harmonizes state immigration policy with existing criminal justice reforms.
“The HOME Act offers an important opportunity to uphold Californians’ values of fairness and equality,” said Ny Nourn, Co-Director of the Asian Prisoner Support Committee. “With the HOME Act, immigrants who meet all of the requirements for release under broadly-supported criminal justice laws will be able to return home to their families.”
The report, published by the ACLU of Northern California, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, Asian Prisoner Support Committee, and Root & Rebound, is available online at this link: https://www.aclunc.org/sites/default/files/CDCR_report%20_FINAL_8_28_23.pdf
A summary of the HOME Act is available here.