In summary

Migrant survivors of gender-based violence require care and community support.

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By Alisa Bierria

Alisa Bierria is an assistant professor in the Department of Gender Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and a co-founder of Survived & Punished.

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Lee Ann S. Wang, Special to CalMatters

Lee Ann S. Wang is an assistant professor in the Department of Asian American Studies and the Department of Social Welfare at the Luskin School of Public Affairs at UCLA.

Californians have passed important reforms to stop the growth of a punitive legal system that often perpetuates violence against those most vulnerable. However, these reforms have not extended to California’s migrant communities, including immigrant survivors of sexual, domestic and reproductive violence. 

Many incarcerated immigrants and refugees are immediately transferred to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention after release from state prisons. For criminalized immigrant survivors, this extended abuse-to-prison-to-ICE detention pipeline only prolongs the devastation of gender-based violence.

Assembly Bill 937 — the Voiding Inequality and Seeking Inclusion for Our Immigrant Neighbors (VISION) Act — ends the automatic pipelining of immigrants from prison to ICE detention, helping to break this cycle of gender-based violence and ongoing punishment.

For immigrant survivors of domestic and sexual violence, such as Gabriela Solano, Liyah Birru, Ny Nourn and Marisela Andrade, ICE transfers are particularly destructive. For example, it’s been one year since a California prison transferred Solano to ICE detention, which led to her deportation, ending her dreams of reuniting with loved ones. She was in prison because her abusive boyfriend used violence to coerce her into driving him to an area where he and others committed a car theft. Tragically, a passenger in Solano’s car instigated an altercation that ended in a person’s death. Solano was horrified, but her abuser forced her to conceal what happened. California allows courts to prosecute people like Solano for murder, even if they did not kill anyone. Solano was prosecuted and received a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, condemning her to incarceration until her death.

Solano had been incarcerated for 20 years when she was granted clemency, a rare occurrence that led to her parole. But when she was set to be released from state prison, she was immediately picked up by ICE. She spent the next agonizing months in an ICE detention center in Colorado, a third site of violence and punishment, before she was deported in June 2021.

The VISION Act will help accomplish three key goals.

First, ICE detention centers are notorious for human rights abuses, including sexual and reproductive violence. Allowing prison-to-ICE transfers makes California complicit in state-enforced pregnancy because ICE detention centers block access to abortions, including when pregnancies result from rape (a systematic form of violence that often occurs in ICE detention without recourse). Further, survivors have exposed the ICE-enforced sterilizations of people imprisoned in ICE detention. By ending the prison-to-ICE-detention pipeline, the VISION Act will help limit the numbers of people impacted by ICE detention.

Second, the VISION Act allows people who have open citizenship cases to advocate for themselves in immigration court. Even if immigrants in ICE detention make a successful claim to remain in the United States, they can remain incarcerated if ICE appeals the decision, a process that can drag on for months or even years. Ending ICE transfers allows people to return to their support networks and access any health care needed to address the traumatic impact of abuse and incarceration, which can make all the difference as they navigate an arduous legal ordeal.

Finally, the VISION Act will help curb one throughline of the intensive, ongoing punishment that disproportionately targets Black migrants, survivors of gender-based violence, and other immigrant and refugee communities that are particularly vulnerable to being targeted for criminalization.

In the interests of public safety, California must prioritize accessible care and community support rather than perpetuate violence and punishment. We must challenge institutions of punishment in our communities where lives are lost and gender violence is the norm. For these reasons, passing the VISION Act must be a priority.

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