Legal Newsline

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Private prison firm sues California over law aimed specifically at ICE detention centers

Federal Court

By Bob Pepalis | Mar 20, 2020


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) – California can’t put extra burdens on the federal government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities through targeted zoning laws, according to a lawsuit by a private prison contractor.

The GEO Group filed suit on March 9 against Gov. Gavin Newsom and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. In its complaint, they claim California Senate Bill 29 is an unconstitutional attempt by the State to regulate and discriminate against the federal government and its contractors.

GEO’s complaint said new zoning restrictions could only apply to its facilities. Another state law prohibits the federal government from using private detention facilities when current contracts expire. GEO has federal contracts to convert two facilities in the McFarland area and one Adelanto-area facility into dedicated ICE detention centers. Those modifications required updates to conditional use permits issued by the cities of Adelanto and McFarland.

Central Valley Modified Community Correctional Facility and Golden State MCCF, both 700-bed facilities in McFarland, will serve as annexes to the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center. Desert View MCCF in Adelanto has a 750-bed capacity and will serve as an annex to the Adelanto ICE Processing Center.

The plaintiff admitted that California can change zoning modification requirements and procedures, but argues it can’t solely target the federal government for disfavored treatment by imposing a specialized burden on federal activity with the intent and design of delaying and thwarting federal authorities' detention of immigrants and enforcement of immigration law.

“Yet, that is precisely what SB-29 does: it singles out contractors who operate federal immigration detention facilities for burdens that it refuses to impose on California’s own detention facilities,” the complaint said. 

The Senate Floor Analysis for SB-29 quoted in the complaint appears to support that the bill is meant to obstruct federal immigration policy.

“President Donald Trump has . . . made it clear that he intends to detain more immigrants and expand private, for-profit detention facility use," the document said. "This bill would protect immigrants held in immigrant detention in California.”

The new zoning procedures turned what took at most 90 days into a much longer process that the complaint said is costing GEO millions of dollars. The new rules require public notice of at least 180 days before issuing a permit. It also requires two public hearings.

The plaintiff wants the relevant section of Senate Bill 92 declared unconstitutional and the award of attorneys’ fees and costs. 

The plaintiff is represented by Michael McClellan of Newmeyer & Dillion of Newport Beach and Charles Cooper, Michael Kirk, J. Joel Alicea and Steven Lindsay of Cooper & Kirk of Washington, D.C.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California case number 2:20-cv-00533-TLN-AC

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U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California