California Ban on For-Profit Prisons Blocked by Appeals Court

California’s first-in-the-nation ban on for-profit private immigration detention facilities and prisons was struck down by a larger panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday which found that it is trumped by the federal government.

The San Francisco-based appellate panel was responding to the challenge brought by private prisons operator GEO Group Inc, which operates two such facilities in California, and the Biden administration and rejected the 2019 state law that would have undermined a key piece of the nation’s detention system for immigrants.

The law, which the Court of Appeals said gave the state too much control over how the federal government handles immigrant detainees, would have phased out privately run immigration jails in California by 2028.

Signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the law was aimed at limiting the cooperation of California with the federal government as the hardline policies on immigration enforcement were imposed by then-President Donald Trump.

Biden administration, however, opposed the law on constitutional grounds and the Appeals Court now decided that the ban gave the state of California too much control over how the federal government handles immigrant detainees.

Noting that under the US Constitution’s “supremacy clause” the state law is preempted by the federal government, the panel sent the case back to the trial court for a decision on other legal arguments.

Circuit Judge Jacqueline Nguyen wrote that California cannot exert this level of control over the federal government’s detention operations as the law would’ve prevented ICE’s contractors from continuing to run detention facilities, requiring the agency to entirely transform its approach to detention in the state or else abandon its facilities in California.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups, about 80% of immigrants awaiting deportation hearings are held in private facilities most of which are operated by GEO Group and rival CoreCivic Inc.

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