An appeals court has vacated its earlier decision that required California to exempt federal immigration detention facilities from its ban on for-profit prisons, ruling this week that the issue will be re-heard by a larger panel of judges.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled 2-1 in October that the state ban must not pertain to immigration centers.

In the split ruling, the majority agreed with The GEO Group, a prison operator, and the federal government that the state law impeded federal immigration policy. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not operate any of its own detention centers in California as it does in other parts of the country, relying solely on privately run facilities.

Judge Mary Murguia dissented, citing the state’s police powers which include regulations affecting health and safety. The law, AB 32, took aim at reports of substandard conditions and health and safety concerns in for-profit prisons.

The panel’s ruling had overturned an earlier one by a district court judge in San Diego, who had upheld the ban as to immigration detention centers.


Attorney General Rob Bonta requested the case be reconsidered by an en banc panel of 11 judges. A majority of the 9th Circuit’s non-recused, active judges voted for a rehearing, Murguia, who is now the chief judge, said in a filing Tuesday.

The hearing will be held in Pasadena the week of June 21 on a day yet to be scheduled.

There is an immigration detention center in San Diego but it is run by another private company, CoreCivic. GEO Group runs a prison in downtown San Diego that generally houses pre-trial defendants charged with federal crimes.

That facility, Western Region Detention Facility, has been on the chopping block per a separate executive order by President Joe Biden to phase out use of such prisons. But the facility was given a six-month extension in September, apparently to explore a work-around deal that would put the official contract with a small Kern County city, who would then subcontract operations to GEO.

It was not immediately clear where negotiations were on that deal. The facility has been allowed to remain open for another 90 days, according to reporting from inewsource.

GEO Group did not respond to a request for more information Wednesday.

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