SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A California lawmaker is trying to end what she calls a "double punishment" for immigrants who've broken the law.
Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, D-East Los Angeles, authored Assembly bill 937, also known as the VISION Act, in the hopes of ending a law that treats non-citizens differently than U.S. citizens.
"I don't think that's right. I don't think it's fair. I don't think it's lawful," Carrillo said. "I don't think it really stands for our democratic values, and I urge members of this body to vote in support of one justice system that treats people equally."
If passed, the VISION Act would ensure that immigrants eligible for release from state prison or local jail would not be turned over to ICE.
Aylaliyah Assefa Birru said she was transferred to an ICE facility in Yuba County when she was released from prison.
Birru shares she came to the United States when she was 15 after fleeing war in her home country of Ethiopia. The 37-year-old is currently fighting deportation after serving four years in prison for defending herself from her abusive ex-husband.
"When I walked out of prison on Nov. 27, 2018, rather than going home like everybody else, like the citizens, I was handed to ICE, and I was in the back of an ICE van," Birru said.
The domestic violence survivor explains that she was not allowed to go home on the day she was released from prison despite being a green card holder.
"I am so disappointed," Birru said, who spent 18 months under ICE custody after completing her prison sentence. "I love America. I've loved it since I was little, but I'm so disappointed that the very system that I believed in has failed me."
It's stories like Birru's that inspired Carrillo to author AB 937. If signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, her legislation would prevent California prison employees from transferring immigrants to ice custody.
"This two-tiered system of justice is not justice," Carrillo notes. "Why has the state of California created this double standard? Double punishment for citizen vs. non-citizen? That is what this bill hopes to correct."
Carrillo, who immigrated to the U.S. during a civil war in El Salvador, calls on her colleagues to support a system that treats everyone equally, regardless of their legal status.
"We are not changing judicial discretion. We are not changing sentencing. We are not changing the way that the parole board works. We are simply saying, treat everyone the same once they are paroled and have an opportunity to reunite their families and restart their lives," Carrillo said.
However, law enforcement groups like the California Police Chief's Association oppose AB 937, citing concerns about not having full access to detain immigrants who may be the subject of other investigations.
While counties like Los Angeles and San Francisco have already ended the practice of handing immigrants over to ICE, Birru adds it's not enough. She believes the VISION Act needs to become a state law so that others who weren't born here don't go through what she did.
"I believe that I have proved myself. I've done my time. I've never had any write-ups or any situation with officers," Birru said.
During her time in prison, Birru was able to finish her associate degree and is now pursuing her bachelor's degree at Sacramento State University.
"I'm grateful to be out and to just be breathing this air," she said.
Birru is slated to be off of parole in November, and while she still lives in fear of deportation, she's not letting that stop her from fighting for justice.