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CA lawmakers approve bill to bar local governments from immigrant detention contracts

Men wearing neon-colored jail clothes signifying immigration detainees walk to pick up their lunches at the Theo Lacy Facility, a county jail which houses convicted criminals as well as immigration detainees, March 14, 2017 in Orange, California, about 32 miles (52km) southeast of Los Angeles.
US President Donald Trumps first budget provides more than USD 4.5 billion in new spending to fight illegal immigration by adding immigration and border enforcement agents, prosecutors and judges, as well as building a wall on the border with Mexico. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck        (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE PHOTO: Men wearing neon-colored jail clothes signifying immigration detainees walk to pick up their lunches at the Theo Lacy Facility, an Orange County jail that houses convicted criminals as well as immigration detainees.

California lawmakers on Thursday approved a measure that bars California cities and counties from signing new contracts with federal officials to rent out immigrant detention space, typically in local jails.

Existing contracts would stand under the measure, but local governments would be unable to expand contracts to add more beds. The measure cleared the state Senate 25-11 and the Assembly 50-21.

The legislation represents another effort by state leaders to push back against stricter immigration enforcement and deportations under the Trump administration. 

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Democrat from Bell Gardens, spoke in favor of the measure during discussion on the budget. 

"Under any administration, whether it is Democratic or Republican, California continues to have to stand alone, and demonstrate to the rest of the world and this country that we are a civilized society, and that we care about human condition, regardless of where you come from," said Lara. 

Immigrant advocates cheered passage of the detention measure.

"California moving this forward recognizes that we should not be profiting from the detention of immigrants, and that we have our own purview, and our own state rights," said Joseph Villela, policy director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

But U.S. Immigration and Customs officials said if they can’t rent detention space from local governments in California, they’ll find other means to house detainees. 

In an emailed statement, ICE officials said "placing limitations on ICE's detention options here in California won't prevent the agency from detaining immigration violators. It will simply mean ICE will have to transfer individuals encountered in California to detention facilities outside the state, at a greater distance from their family, friends, and legal representatives."

The approved measure would also give the state attorney general the power to check on conditions at detention facilities in California, although it was not immediately clear if federal officials would recognize that authority.

Lara and Attorney General Xavier Becerra scheduled a press conference in San Francisco on Friday to announce plans for immigrant detention facility reviews. 

Lara is sponsoring a separate bill that would bar local governments in California from contracting with private-prison operators to provide immigrant detention space to the federal government.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a version of the bill last year, at a time when the Obama administration appeared poised to cut back on private detention contractors. Lara re-introduced his bill after Donald Trump won the presidency.

Local governments, including Orange County, draw revenue from federal detention contracts. Last month, Orange County supervisors approved a plan to rent 120 additional detention beds at a county jail to immigration officials, a move that would provide up to $5 million more in revenue to the county.

The Orange County Sheriff's Department told KPCC in May that the money from the expanded contract would help the department to cover budget shortfalls and provide services.

There were other immigration-related measures tied to the state budget, the most prominent one a plan to set aside millions of dollars to expand legal defense for immigrants who are fighting deportation.