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California asks review of order tossing ban on private jails

A sign for the Otay Mesa Detention Center sits in front of the building Tuesday, July 7, 2020, in San Diego.
Gregory Bull
A sign for the Otay Mesa Detention Center sits in front of the building Tuesday, July 7, 2020, in San Diego.

California's attorney general on Wednesday asked the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider a ruling that rejected the state's first-in-the-nation ban on for-profit private prisons and immigration detention facilities.

The ruling last month by a three-judge appellate panel kept in place a key piece of the world’s largest detention system for immigrants — despite a 2019 state law aimed at phasing out privately-run immigration jails in California by 2028.

“They treat people like commodities, they pose an unacceptable risk to the health and welfare of Californians, they prioritize profits over rehabilitation — making us all less safe,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta, who wrote the law when he was in the state Assembly and filed the request for the review by a broader cross-section of the court.


Gov. Gavin Newsom, a fellow Democrat who signed the law, said in a statement that the use of private immigration lockups “does not reflect the values of our state and disproportionately impacts minority and low-income communities.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and The Geo Group Inc., which sued California over the law, did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment about Bonta's request for the new review.

The three appellate judges, in a split decision, ruled that the state law interferes with the federal government’s authority.

Two appointees of former Republican President Donald Trump rejected the law while an appointee of former Democratic President Barack Obama dissented.

The law was passed as one of numerous efforts by California Democrats to limit the state's cooperation with the federal government on immigration enforcement under the Trump administration.


But the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden also has opposed the law on constitutional grounds.

“President Biden himself has noted that he wants to put an end to private prisons, so I’m hopeful that the question will ultimately be how we can get there together,” Bonta said.

He added: "We’re not there yet.”

California has a large immigrant population and as a result, has been a large part of the federal government's immigration detention network.

Five of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's eight immigration detention centers in California are run by private companies — in the cities of Adelanto, Bakersfield, Calexico, McFarland and San Diego.