Major Defeat for ICE, GEO as Court Upholds AB 32

Major Defeat for ICE, GEO as Court Upholds AB 32  

San Diego, CA
- Today, U.S. District Judge Janis 
Sammartino issued a final ruling largely upholding AB 32, California’s ban on private prisons and detention centers, except as applied to private US Marshal facilities. Under the ruling, five immigration detention centers in the state would be phased out in the coming years. 

In another setback for ICE and the GEO Group, the judge also refused to affirmatively uphold a number of 15-year, multi-billion contracts which prison corporations entered into with ICE in order to expand immigration detention in the state. Signed days before AB 32 went into effect, the contracts drew condemnation from community groups and Members of Congress.  

The judge also granted a request by California to “dismiss” or throw out portions of the ICE/GEO lawsuit entirely, another significant legal defeat. Extensive arguments by the Trump administration and the GEO Group at a July hearing failed to sway the court. Over 100 community members and formerly detained individuals packed the phone line to listen to the July hearing, a strong showing which the judge recognized.     

In response to this development, the Dignity not Detention coalition issued the following statement:

Today’s ruling is a major rebuke to both ICE and the GEO Group, and a set-back for their illicit scheme to subvert popular legislation. As this fight continues, it is clear we have the Constitution on our side. 

Meanwhile, medical neglect and abuse are worsening in ICE detention, from the spraying of toxic chemicals to rampaging COVID outbreaks. Despite this, Black and brown immigrants are continuing to organize for freedom, and our state leaders must hear their voices. 

The Attorney General’s office cannot simply pat themselves on the back. AG Becerra must take further action - including investigating and holding accountable the prison corporations that profit at the expense of community health and well-being. 

At the same time, even with the ruling largely upholding AB 32, we are disappointed by the exclusion of US Marshal facilities.  As we face the twin crises of COVID and systemic racism, we affirm:whether cages are run by a corporation or the government, incarceration is wrong, abusive, and must end.

Pushed by a grassroots movement and signed by Gov. Newsom in October 2019, AB 32 went into effect on January 1, banning private prisons and private detention centers in California. Previous legislation had already frozen government-run ICE detention in the state; only one such facility remains. Since contracts for three of the then four private ICE detention centers in the state were set to expire in March 2020, the facilities would have closed prior to the onset of COVID-19. 

But in December 2019, days before AB 32 went into effect, ICE inked new contracts to keep the California detention centers open and expand detention into facilities which California had been leasing from one of the corporations, The GEO group. Days later, GEO filed a lawsuit, followed by the Trump administration. 

In a rare move, at the July hearing on the lawsuit, the court invited comment from advocates filing amicus briefs. Jackie Gonzalez, Immigrant Defense Advocates Policy Director, delivered searing remarks, denouncing the “dirty hands” of GEO Group. Gonzalez stated at the hearing: “It is directly against the public interest to allow private corporations to enter into sham contracts with local governments in order to circumvent federal and state laws all while evading oversight and transparency.”

Prior to July’s hearing, advocates held a zoom press conference featuring representatives from the Cameroon American Council; Human Impact Partners; Immigrant Legal Resource Center; and two formerly detained community leaders. 


The Dignity Not Detention coalition includes California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, Immigrant Defense Advocates (IDA), Immigrant Defense Project (IDP), Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), Resilience Orange County, Freedom for Immigrants, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network (SIREN), Pangea Legal Services, and others.