California lawmakers banned local governments from signing new contracts for holding federal immigration detainees and funded a state inspection program for immigrant detention centers, as part of a budget deal approved Thursday.
Advocates said they make California the first state to limit new contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or to mount an independent inspection program for ICE facilities.
“We are going completely in the opposite direction of where Congress and President Trump is heading,” state Sen. Ricardo Lara said Friday at a press conference in the San Francisco LGBT Center.
California has nine immigrant detention centers that can hold a combined 100,000 people.
“Let’s not be fooled,” Lara said. “They’re called ‘detention centers,’ but they’re really prisons and jails.”
In the first three months of the Trump administration, arrests by ICE increased 38 percent over the same period in 2016. Local jail officials who contract with ICE have said the growth in immigrant detention is a promising opportunity for new federal money.
Orange County may be the last local jurisdiction to sign a deal before the state slammed the door. On May 9, county supervisors approved a new contract with ICE to hold 120 additional detainees for an extra $5 million a year. Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Lane Lagaret told Reveal that expansion should be allowed to go ahead because it was signed a month before the new law.
Orange County has had a detention contract with ICE since 2010. A scathing report in March from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General found spoiled food, moldy showers and dangerous conditions at the Theo Lacy Facility where Orange County holds most of those detained under its ICE contract.
Under the budget deal, the California Department of Justice will get funding to inspect all of the immigrant detention centers in the state, and report its findings to the Legislature in 2019.
“We want people to know that if you’re going to be detained in California, we’re going to make sure that your rights are respected,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who will oversee the inspections.
Roberto Ordeñana, the LGBT Center’s director of development and marketing, said the location of Friday’s announcement was significant because detention is particularly dangerous for LGBT people. Transgender women, in particular, are often held alongside men, denied medication and placed in solitary confinement, he said.
ICE’s only dedicated unit for transgender inmates, operated by the Santa Ana City Jail, closed in May following a complaint by the advocacy group Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement alleging illegal strip searches. Most of those detained at the jail were moved in May to a facility in New Mexico.
An ICE official told the Wall Street Journal that California’s budget deal this week has only ensured that more detainees will face long-distance moves. “It will simply mean ICE will have to transfer individuals encountered in California to detention facilities outside the state, at a greater distance from their family, friends, and legal representatives,” the official said.
Patrick Michels can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @PatrickMichels.