<p>Armando Gudiño (562) 413-9003 </p>
SACRAMENTO, CA –Today, California Gov. Jerry Brown acted on two life-changing companion bills, approving one, but vetoing the other. Brown signed A.B. 1352 which allows those who have completed court ordered drug diversion since 1997 to file with the court to convert their plea to a “not guilty.” Before 1997, there was a pre-plea diversion option in California. The relief applies only to those who have completed diversion, which has already resulted in clearing the arrest and conviction from their record. The change is urgently needed, because the guilty plea triggers federal consequences, including deportation for non-citizens, or loss of housing and educational grants for citizens. These cruel consequences exist even for very old cases against legal immigrants or parents or spouses of US citizens.
The prospective companion bill, A.B. 1351vetoed by Gov. Brown, would have allowed judges the discretion to order diversion to drug treatment or education without the precondition of a guilty plea. California currently lacks a pre-plea option, and the admission of guilt is considered a conviction for federal immigration purposes. The consequences can be immediate and devastating, including deportation, mandatory detention, and permanent separation of families.
The bills were authored by Stockton Democrat Susan Talamantes-Eggman and were considered priorities by the California Legislative Latino Caucus and several immigrant and human rights groups, working in conjunction with drug policy and criminal justice reformers.
“Today we took a small step forward, but there is more work to do,” said Armando Gudiño, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We remain committed to keeping families together and will continue to work towards making California laws more equitable and ensure immigrant families have equal access to drug treatment and are not separated for petty drug law violations.”
Half of California’s children live in households headed by at least one foreign-born parent – and the majority of these children are U.S. citizens. Approximately 50,000 parents of U.S. citizen children in California were deported in a little over two years, leaving many children parentless. This is particularly devastating to families in California, the most immigrant-rich state in the U.S.
The legislation brought together a unique coalition of national, state and local groups. The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, the National Council of La Raza, the Immigration Legal Resource Center, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, and the Drug Policy Alliance came together to co-sponsor the bill, which is also supported by more numerous organizations throughout the state, including drug treatment professionals and churches.
The prospective fix was endorsed by the Los Angeles Times editorial board, who stated that this “new approach would treat potential citizens the same way full citizens are treated when it comes to minor drug infractions. And it rightly emphasizes recovery and rehabilitation over incarceration.”