(CN) — A third-party contractor that arrests immigrants released from state and local custody only to put them back behind bars in federal facilities faces a class action filed by a woman who has lived in the United States since she was 2 years old and fears being arrested and deported after serving 22 years in state custody.
Gabriela Solano filed a 33-page class action complaint in the Northern District of California on Monday, asking a judge to find that policies by ICE allowing private contractor G4S Secure Solutions to arrest immigrants for deportation violates the Immigration and Nationality Act, which prohibits using private security companies to make immigration arrests.
Solano claims immigration officials have openly flouted federal laws barring ICE from using private contractors to make arrests in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Phoenix since at least 2016, paving the way G4S to arrest hundreds of immigrants — mostly in California — and transfer them from state and local custody to immigration custody upon their release.
ICE’s current contract with G4S is effective through 2023, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit follows the introduction last week of the VISION Act, California Assembly Bill 937, by state Assembly member Wendy Carrillo. If passed, the act would ensure immigrants eligible for release from state prison or local jail are not turned over to ICE.
Attorney Jenny Zhao with the Immigrant Rights Program at Asian Americans Advancing Justice represents Solano. In an interview, Zhao said Solano’s is the first lawsuit challenging the use of private security companies to arrest state detainees to transfer them to ICE custody.
Zhao said the practice has been bolstered by California’s cooperation with ICE officials. She said the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation notifies ICE of inmates who are about to be released and will release inmates early to accommodate pick-up schedules by ICE’s contractor G4S.
“It is a practice that has been going on for many years,” Zhao said. “I’m not sure this is a political decision that has been made; it seems a matter of convenience. It may be a cost-cutting measure, [but] it violates the law.”
A survivor of domestic violence, Solano was brought to the United States as a toddler and was recently found suitable for release from state prison on parole after serving 22 years for a murder charge. Solano had served as a driver for her abusive ex-partner after he had shot and killed a pedestrian in a botched robbery. Under the felony murder rule, she was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole even though she had not killed anyone
Solano earned two degrees while in prison, took over 1,000 hours of rehabilitative classes and has worked as an office clerk for 12 years. Her life sentence was commuted to 20 years to life in 2018 by Governor Jerry Brown, making her eligible for parole.
But ICE has notified her it intends to detain her for removal proceedings upon her release from the California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, according to the complaint.
“I've been dreaming of being reunited with my family and community for so long, and now it could finally happen. But the fear of being arrested by G4S, locked in an ICE detention center, and possibly deported to Mexico, keeps me up at night,” Solano said in a statement.
She added: “I was brought here to the U.S. at the age of two and my closest family is here. This is where I hope to build a new life with the second chance I've been given."
The lawsuit isn’t the first time G4S’s practices have been challenged by immigrant detainees. In 2019, four women claimed they faced inhumane conditions when being transferred from one detention facility to another in a van ride which should have taken five hours but took over a day.
ICE declined comment, citing pending litigation.
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