The prison-to-detention pipeline for migrants must end

In summary

Migrant survivors of gender-based violence need care and community support.

By Alisa Bierria

Alisa Bierria is an assistant professor in the Department of Gender Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and co-founder of Survived and punished.

Lee Ann S. Wang, special for CalMatters

Lee Ann S. Wang is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Asian American Studies and the Department of Social Welfare at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Californians have passed significant reforms to stop the growth of a punitive legal system that often perpetuates violence against the most vulnerable. However, these reforms did not extend to California’s migrant communities, including immigrant survivors of sexual, domestic and reproductive violence.

Many incarcerated immigrants and refugees are immediately transferred to a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center upon release from state prisons. For survivors of criminalized immigrants, this extended detention channel from prison abuse to ICE only prolongs the devastation of gender-based violence.

Assembly Bill 937 – the VISION Act (Voiding Inequality and Seeking Inclusion for Our Immigrant Neighbors) – ends the automatic funneling of immigrants from prison to ICE detention, helping to break this cycle of gender-based violence and continuous punishment.

For immigrant survivors of domestic and sexual violence, such as Gabriela Solano, Liyah Birru, Ny Nourn and Marisela Andrade, ICE transfers are particularly destructive. For example, it’s been a year since a California prison transferred Solano to ICE custody, which led to his deportation, ending his dreams of reuniting with his loved ones. She was in jail because her abusive boyfriend had used violence to coerce her into driving him to an area where he and others had stolen a car. Tragically, a passenger in Solano’s car sparked an altercation that ended in one person’s death. Solano was horrified, but her attacker forced her to hide what had happened. California allows courts to prosecute people like Solano for murder, even if they didn’t kill anyone. Solano was prosecuted and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, sentencing her to incarceration until her death.

Solano had been incarcerated for 20 years when she was granted clemency, a rare event that led to her parole. But when she was to be released from state prison, she was immediately picked up by ICE. She spent the next agonizing months in an ICE detention center in Colorado, a third site of violence and punishment, before being deported in June 2021.

The VISION Act will help achieve three key objectives.

First, ICE detention centers are notorious for human rights violations, including sexual and reproductive violence. Allowing ICE prison transfers makes California complicit in state-forced pregnancies because ICE detention centers block access to abortions, including when pregnancies result from rape (a systematic form of violence often occurs in ICE detentions without appeal). Additionally, survivors exposed ICE-enforced sterilizations of those imprisoned in ICE detention. By ending the prison-to-ICE detention pipeline, the VISION Act will help limit the number of people affected by ICE detention.

Second, the VISION Act allows people who have open citizenship cases to defend themselves in immigration court. Even if immigrants detained by ICE are successful in applying to remain in the United States, they may remain incarcerated if ICE appeals the decision, a process that can take months or even years. Ending ICE transfers allows people to return to their support networks and access all the health care needed to deal with the traumatic impact of abuse and incarceration, which can make all the difference then that they are going through an arduous legal ordeal.

Finally, the VISION Act will help curb one of the intensive and ongoing sanctions that disproportionately targets black migrants, survivors of gender-based violence, and other immigrant and refugee communities who are particularly likely to be targeted for criminalization.

In the interest of public safety, California must prioritize accessible care and community support over perpetuating violence and punishment. We must challenge the institutions of punishment in our communities where lives are lost and gender-based violence is the norm. For these reasons, the adoption of the VISION law must be a priority.

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