Federal Judge Upholds California Ban on Private Immigration Detention Facilities
FAIR Take | October 2020
California continues to spearhead open-borders policies at the state level designed to undermine the federal government’s constitutional supremacy and its ability to effectively enforce our nation’s immigration laws. Recently, a federal court has upheld the Golden State’s attempt to ban private immigration detention facilities, but appeals are almost certain.
There are currently four private immigration detention facilities in California that contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house suspected illegal aliens while they go through the deportation process.
The state legislature passed Assembly Bill (AB) 32 on September 11, 2019, prohibiting private detention contractors from entering into new contracts or renewing their current ones after January 1, 2020. The bill also required that all private detention contractors close their facilities by 2028. It was signed into law a month later by Governor Gavin Newsom (D).
The GEO Group, a private contractor, sued California on December 31, 2019, alleging that AB 32 is preempted by federal law under the US Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. It asked the court to block the state from enforcing it. The federal government followed with its own lawsuit on February 10 of this year, with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) arguing on behalf of ICE that AB 32 “stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment of congressional objectives related to criminal law and immigration enforcement, directly regulates federal operations, and discriminates against the United States by granting exceptions for California that do not apply to the federal government or its contractors.”
On October 9, Federal District Judge Janis Sammartino, a George W. Bush appointee, ruled that AB 32 was not preempted by federal law nor did it discriminate against the federal government because “outsourc[ing] work to private detention facilities does not transform those contractors into instrumentalities of the federal government,” and AB 32 “does not regulate either foreign relations or immigration — it regulates only the operation of private detention facilities in California.”
Judge Sammartino carved out an exception for detainees being held in private facilities for the U.S. Marshals Service, pending trial on federal criminal charges, which she differentiated from ICE. She found that Congress specifically enacted a law authorizing the U.S. Marshals Service to hold detainees in private facilities.
Neither GEO nor DOJ have decided whether to appeal the decision yet. Based on comments from GEO it does appear likely. On Friday, a spokesman for the company said, “[w]e remain confident this matter will ultimately be decided in our favor by the courts … but until then we will continue to provide safe, secure and humane care to individuals who are being adjudicated under federal immigration law, consistent with the high quality services we have provided in the state of California for several decades under both Democratic and Republican administrations.”
The parties have 60 days from the judge’s ruling to file an appeal.