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Foreign-born prisoners sue, alleging discrimination

California's San Quentin Prison
Steven Kocino
Flickr / Creative Commons
California's San Quentin Prison

According to a complaint filed by the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation makes a list of all "foreign-born" people in its custody and refers the list to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE").

The list does not exclude U.S. citizens (and other lawful U.S. residents). U.S. citizens included in the referral allegedly suffer discriminatory treatment (as compared to non-foreign-born U.S. citizens) in two general ways.

The first relates to so-called immigration "holds." When a prisoner is not a U.S. citizen, ICE officials may request state prison officials to transfer custody of the prisoner to ICE at the end of his or her incarceration so that ICE can determine if the individual should be deported.

When ICE makes such a request, CDCR officials place an "Actual Hold" on the prisoner while in state custody.

The complaint alleges that even when ICE has not made such a request, California prison officials place a "Potential Hold" on prisoners on the foreign-born list.

There are negative consequences to a prisoner during the period of incarceration if he or she is subject to either an Actual or Potential Hold. The complaint alleges that prisoners are denied housing and rehabilitation possibilities, as well as other prison benefits, based on being subject to a hold.

The complaint asks the court to declare the practice unlawful and prevent CDCR officials from continuing to follow it in the future.

Sunni M. Khalid is a veteran of more than 40 years in journalism, having worked has in print, radio, television, and web journalism.