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ACLU Claims California Department of Corrections Detains U.S. Citizens for Deportation

— April 28, 2023

The lawsuit alleges that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation regularly holds inmates perceived as “foreign born,” irrespective of whether they have completed their sentences and irrespective of whether they are U.S. citizens.

A recently filed lawsuit alleges that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has violated state law by referring inmates who appear “foreign-born” to federal immigration officials, with some improperly detained for weeks after sentencing.

According to FOX News, the lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.

In their complaint, A.C.L.U. attorneys allege that inmates were singled out if they appeared foreign or had been born overseas, and were routinely denied access to ordinary rehabilitative programs and educational opportunities.

The A.C.L.U. claims that these practices infringed on inmates’ rights by treating them differently on the bases of place of birth, race, and other protected categories.

The lawsuit includes testimony from several named plaintiffs, including Brian Bukle.

Bukle, who is a U.S. citizen, was born overseas.

However, after completing his sentence in California at the end of June 2020, he was referred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Corrections officials also requested an investigation into the legal status of Anouthinh “Choy” Pangthong.

A U.S. passport. Image by Ryan J. Farrick.

While Pangthong is a U.S. citizen, he was born overseas in a refugee camp.

Pangthong purportedly spent close to 19 years in prison, fearing deportation upon his release.

Speaking to the press, Pangthong said that, at one point, he hoped to stay in state custody “to just avoid being ripped apart from my home and family.”

“Deportation,” Pangthong said, “would mean losing my loved one sand a life rooted in the community and state I call home.”

The lawsuit, filed in an Alameda Superior Court, alleges that California corrections officials began detaining and referring immigrants to I.C.E.—even in instances where I.C.E. had not requested investigations or detention holders.

“Each year, without I.C.E.’s direction and on its own initiative, [the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] identifies hundreds of people in its custody whom it believes were born outside of the United States,” the lawsuit claims.

The department, following a policy in effect since at least 2005, “sends lists of all ‘foreign-born’—and perceived foreign-born—individuals in its custody to I.C.E. without regard to whether they are U.S. citizens or otherwise not deportable.”

The lawsuit alleges that these practices violate the California Constitution’s prohibitions against racial and ethnic discrimination, as well as a 2018 law known as the California Values Act.

The California Values Act, notes the San Francisco Chronicle, prohibits the state Department of Corrections for penalizing inmates because of their national origin or immigration status.

The law also prohibits the agency from keeping suspected undocumented immigrants in custody after their sentence is over, unless the immigrant has been convicted of a violent crime or other serious felony.


California prisons illegally send prisoners’ info to ICE, including those who merely look ‘foreign,’ lawsuit says

California prisons target inmates that appear ‘foreign-born,’ lawsuit alleges

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