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ICE Raid Vigil in Los Angeles

SEIU l Flickr Creative Commons

Immigration enforcement is an issue that has increasingly gained salience in the national political conversation and in state capitols across the country. California policymakers, like many other states, are debating how to develop comprehensive immigration reform that considers the socio-economic, political, and human impacts. But California is increasingly pushed to the forefront of this debate, given the ongoing differences in how counties are implementing Realignment and a recent court order mandating it further lower its prison population by 10,000 individuals.

The Public Policy Institute of California notes that California has more immigrants living within its borders than anywhere else in the country, with one estimate measuring 2.5 million undocumented immigrants in 2010.There is some indication that immigration may actually result in a decrease in crime rates. Yet if this population is notably law-abiding, why are so many of them in our local jails?

According to a new CJCJ report, California’s counties have spent significant resources and jail capacity, often at their own expense, to detain suspected undocumented immigrants who do not have a reported criminal history. When these individuals make contact with the criminal justice system, their biometric information is automatically shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). If ICE believes the individual is an undocumented immigrant they may issue an ICE hold request, which is a non-mandatory request that law enforcement hold the suspect up to 48 hours, although this could be longer should the period include weekends and holidays. This hold gives ICE time to pick up the suspect from a local facility for a subsequent immigration hearing.

The CJCJ report finds that 71,781 holds for a total of 143,562 bed days were made for suspected undocumented immigrants who had no documented criminal history including minor offenses, between July 1, 2010 and December 31, 2012. The total cost for these ICE holds was roughly $16.3 million during the total 30-month period, with $6.8 million in the 15-months following Realignment.

California’s criminal justice system continues to face significant challenges with Realignment, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday, August 2nd that the state must reduce the number of incarcerated individuals in state prison by 10,000. CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard described that the state’s response would potentially include contracting with available county and community correctional facilities. However, California’s 58 counties are expending considerable jail capacity and funds for ICE holds on suspected undocumented immigrants who do not have a criminal history. Each county should consider the significant impact of these non-mandatory requests and prioritize their limited law enforcement resources to best preserve public safety in a post-Realignment California.