After court rulings, we must do more to protect Californians

Jun 27, 2020 | Cal Matters

In summary

More work needs to be done in California to protect immigrants and communities of color from discrimination.

By Sandy Valenciano and

Sandy Valenciano, a community organizer and DACA recipient, is a fellow at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, [email protected]

Angela Chan, Special to CalMatters

Angela Chan is policy director and senior staff attorney with Advancing Justice Asian Law Caucus, [email protected] Both organizations are members of the statewide ICE out of California coalition.

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court dealt the Trump administration two significant defeats last week over immigration and sanctuary cities, more work needs to be done in California.

On June 18, the court ruled the Trump administration’s attempt to end the DACA program, which protects from deportation some immigrants who have been in the U.S. since they were children, was “arbitrary and capricious.”

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Another decision was equally momentous: the justices rejected, 7-2, the administration’s lawsuit against parts of the California Values Act, the state’s “Sanctuary Law.” Passed in 2017, the law set a minimum standard to limit police and sheriffs from acting as deportation agents. 

These decisions are welcome news to every Californian concerned about the federal government’s abuses of power and creeping authoritarianism. But our celebrations must lead to further action, not complacency. Now is no time for our state’s leaders to rest. 

While the California Values Act has reduced local jail transfers to ICE by an estimated 41%, we must not turn our backs on community members who have been criminalized by a legal system plagued with racism. 

The best way for Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature to mark these wins is with further action. 

The governor should immediately stop transferring Californians to Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities, where 30% of the people who have been tested are positive for COVID-19. 

But that should be a bare minimum response to this moment. 

The court’s decisions come at a pivotal time to defend black lives from violence at the hands of police. Like never before, a broad swath of people across the U.S. are recognizing that policing and incarceration criminalize black people and communities of color. 

Our organizations stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and fully back demands to defund an abusive system of policing and incarceration, and to invest in health, education and housing, prioritizing the most affected communities.

We also recognize that when policing and incarceration are tangled with federal deportation, this disproportionately harms black immigrants, who are courageously organizing in detention. 

Yet due to pressure from conservative law enforcement groups, the final version of the California Values Act left out many Californians who had suffered racial profiling and abuse. These exclusions denied the power of transformative justice and rehabilitation. 

In the throes of COVID-19, these exclusions may amount to a death sentence, as medical neglect and the impossibility of physical distancing during incarceration have led to twin crises in California’s prisons and jails, and in ICE detention. 

As it is, the state only grants a small number of people parole.  To turn community members who have earned their release over to ICE is hypocritical and undercuts our state’s efforts to flatten the curve. This practice must end. 

California should also hold accountable and investigate corporations that help ICE deprive immigrants of liberty and take strong measures to free people from custody. And more broadly speaking, California should also take strong measures to free people from state custody. This is especially urgent given the dire spread of COVID-19 at San Quentin prison this last week, which medical experts have attributed to state negligence. And California should also pass “The Budget to Save Lives” proposal that invests in communities, not incarceration and policing. 

To be sure, President Donald Trump frequently uses the “criminal” label to strip away the humanity of black and brown people. But it is time to see these attacks as the racist dog whistles they are, designed to distract and divide communities. 

Some might argue for smaller reforms. But the governor has recently acknowledged: “Our justice system is not blind. It discriminates based on the color of your skin.”

These words must be followed by bold action. Anything else is merely lip service. 

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