California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently floated the idea of building prisons in Mexico to outsource his state’s 18,000 inmates allegedly in the country without proper documentation. While this was clearly a ludicrous statement, given that not all those inmates are from Mexico and that building more prisons will not fix our broken immigration system, it also meant that undocumented families would not be able to visit their loved ones in prison across the border. But as it turns out, undocumented immigrants also cannot visit their relatives in jail this side of the border, in California.
SF Weekly reports that a memo to prison wardens from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) states that a consulate ID may be used for identification purpose for only 60 days after the first visit. After that, immigrants are required to present a valid California ID, something that is next to impossible for undocumented immigrants to produce. Though the inmate visitation guidelines available on the CDCR site listed no such stringent requirements, spokeswoman Terry Thornton did express concern about the fact that consulate IDs did not allow them to do proper background checks on visitors.
This requirement is stricter than California state law, which only requires a valid “picture passport” or a “picture identification issued by the Mexican Consulate” to visit someone in state prison. Being undocumented does not make a person criminal, but the CDCR is assuming guilt on the part of hard-working free Californians, and hence denying them visitation rights.
Given the horrors of immigrant detention and the expanded Secure Communities program, which threatens to deport inmates mistakenly without granting them due process, not allowing family members visitation rights — regardless of citizenship — is altogether ridiculous and ironically, criminal. Maybe it is time for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to get in line with the law of the state.
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