A Court Says California’s Ban on Private Prisons Can’t Include Immigrant Detention

“California is not simply exercising its traditional police powers, but rather impeding federal immigration policy,” a judge said

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court blocked California’s ban on privately owned immigration detention centers, ruling that the exemption on such institutions was “impeding federal immigration policy,” according to Judge Kenneth K. Lee.

In the 2-1 ruling, a panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Assembly Bill 32—signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2019 with the purpose of phasing out privately run prisons by 2028—could not include immigration detention facilities, KTLA reports.

“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,” wrote Lee, a Trump appointee. “It bars the Secretary from doing what federal immigration law explicitly permits him or her to do.”

Judge Bridget Bade, also a Trump appointee, joined Lee in granting the appeal while Judge Mary Murguia, an appointed of President Barack Obama, dissented.

California’s ban on privately owned immigrant detention centers went into effect just last year, but was quickly met with opposition when the federal government and the GEO Group, Inc., a Florida-based private prison company that owns two immigrant centers, filed an appeal, Los Angeles Times reports. They argued that the state’s mandate went against federal law.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who wrote the state’s mandate when he was an assemblyman, said that the state would likely appeal the court’s decision.

“We will continue the fight to ensure the dignities and rights of everyone in California are protected,” Bonta said in a statement. “As a Filipino American who was brought to this country as an infant, this fight is personal to me. While the road ahead may feel a little longer today, our work continues, and we will keep pushing forward.”

Five of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s eight immigration detention centers in California are run by private companies in Adelanto, Bakersfield, Calexico, McFarland, and San Diego, KTLA reports. ICE is currently holding about 24,000 in custody.

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