Court Tosses Ban on Private Immigration Jails in California

Privately run immigration jails were to be phased out by 2028

In this June 9, 2017, file photo, a vehicle drives into the Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego, Calif.
Elliot Spagat/AP (File)

A federal appeals court on Tuesday tossed out California's ban on privately owned immigration detention facilities, keeping intact a key piece of the world's largest detention system for immigrants.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the ban into law in 2019, another measure to limit California's cooperation with the federal government on immigration enforcement as then-President Donald Trump imposed hardline policies. Privately run immigration jails were to be phased out by 2028.

Questions have been raised about the COVID-19 mitigation measures at the Otay Mesa Detention Facility. NBC 7's Tania Luviano reports.

A divided three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found the ban, Assembly Bill 32, interfered with the federal government's authority to enforce the law.

“AB 32 cannot stand because it conflicts with this federal power and discretion given to the Secretary (of Homeland Security) in an area that remains in the exclusive realm of the federal government, and it bars the Secretary from doing what federal immigration law explicitly permits him or her to do,” wrote Judge Kenneth Lee, a Trump appointee.

Lee was joined by Bridget Bade, another Trump appointee. Judge Mary Murguia, an appointee of President Barack Obama, dissented.

The ruling is a victory for companies including The Geo Group Inc., which sued Newsom, and CoreCivic Inc., which rely heavily on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts and are a critical part of the agency's detention system.

The court sent the case back to U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino in San Diego for more consideration after overruling her decision to keep the law in effect during the legal challenge.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who sponsored the law banning private immigration detention when he was a state assemblyman, said the ban was key to achieving health and safety for all people and that the fight was personal to him, having come to the United States from the Philippines as an infant.

“While the road ahead may feel a little longer today, our work continues and we will keep pushing forward,” he said.

California, with its large immigrant population, has been a big part of ICE's network. Five of the agency's eight immigration detention centers in California are run by private companies — in Adelanto, Bakersfield, Calexico, McFarland and San Diego.

In recent years, ICE has begun shifting detention centers to the South, especially Louisiana, partly because the political climate is more receptive.

ICE currently has about 24,000 people in its custody, well below its peak of more than 56,000 in 2019 but up sharply from last year, when efforts to prevent spread of COVID-19 curtailed capacity.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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