California suffers defeat in bid to stop ICE detention centers

A federal appeals court blasted California’s law that tried to shut down immigration detention centers paid for by the federal government but run by private contractors, ruling Monday that the state was illegally attempting to override the national government’s policies.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the U.S. Constitution makes federal law supreme, and the state’s restriction on private prisons “obstructs” a key federal function of carrying out immigration enforcement.

The 8-3 decision sends the case back to a lower judge for more proceedings.

California’s law, known as AB32, was enacted in 2019 as one of a series of state moves intended to slap at the Trump administration’s attempts to stiffen immigration enforcement. It banned the operation of a “private detention facility” inside the state.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Homeland Security agency that handles detention and deportation of illegal immigrants, relies heavily on privately run facilities in the state to hold migrants.

The appeals court said California may have had room to impose new standards and licensing requirements on federal contractors, but did not have the ability to “control or obstruct federal functions.”

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“AB 32 would give California the power to control ICE’s immigration detention operations in the state by preventing ICE from hiring the personnel of its choice,” wrote Judge Jacqueline H. Nguyen, an Obama appointee to the court.

California had argued that the effects on the feds were indirect, and the law only applied to private actors.

Judge Mary H. Murguia, writing the dissenting opinion, agreed, saying that the law was on safe legal ground because it “does not directly regulate the federal government.”

Both the federal government and the GEO Group, a major operator of private facilities for ICE, had sued to stop California’s law.

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