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Bukle v. United States: Part of the Movement to Expose ICE’s Civil Rights Abuses, End ICE Transfers

December 5, 2022 News

For 36 days in 2020, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) illegally incarcerated Brian Bukle, a Black resident of Riverside County who has lived in the U.S. since he was a toddler and has been a citizen for over 50 years.

From the moment he was in ICE custody, Brian told officers over and over again that he is a U.S. citizen, but they ignored him. Instead, California’s prison system (CDCR) chose to report him to ICE for deportation and turn him over to ICE’s private contractors, who incarcerated him at the Mesa Verde ICE Detention Facility in Bakersfield. Brian was in ICE custody for 36 days–achieving freedom only after getting in touch with an immigration attorney who finally compelled ICE to admit what the documents in its possession had shown all along: Brian has been a U.S. citizen since he was a child. In November 2021, Brian sued ICE for his unlawful arrest, represented by the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus, and the law firm Sidley Austin LLP.

After nearly a year of fighting for justice, Brian and his family are marking an important community victory. In a new settlement, ICE will pay Brian $150,000 for illegally arresting and detaining him for over a month. Appallingly, Brian is one of hundreds of potential U.S. citizens illegally arrested, detained, or deported by ICE in just the past few years. Like Brian’s courageous advocacy, their stories expose how our immigration systems undermine values of fairness and justice. Brian’s perseverance helped teach the public about how ICE violates Californians’ civil and constitutional rights–and how CDCR is an active co-conspirator in these violations. In turn, community members continue to organize and mobilize for an end to ICE transfers that cruelly double punish Californians because of the color of their skin or where they were born.

ICE Transfers Amplify the Racism Already Present in CA's Legal System

Earlier this year, Brian shared his story as part of a series on Californians organizing to end our state’s prison-to-ICE pipeline that callously separates thousands of families. His story inspired many people to contact their legislators and urge them to end this racist practice once and for all.

As the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) has documented, Black immigrants are significantly more likely to be targeted for deportation and come in contact with ICE. While 7% of non-citizens in the U.S. are Black, they comprise 20% of those facing deportation on criminal grounds.

UCLA’s Center for Immigration Law and Policy (CILP) has also researched the racist and anti-Asian origins of U.S. immigration laws and California’s role in amplifying the effects of these laws. In a letter to the California State Senate summarizing that research, they wrote: “Conviction-based deportation is rooted in racist immigration lawmaking. California legislators and civil servants have been complicit in the development and implementation of these laws for more than one hundred years, thus fostering and perpetuating the anti-Asian racism from which they arose.”

As Brian said after filing his lawsuit, “I came this close to being deported and losing everything, a nightmare that has stayed with me to this day. CDCR and ICE continually harm Black and immigrant families whether or not we are U.S. citizens.”

Brian Bukle wears a gray beanie cap and a t-shirt with purple sleeves, and leans back against a black couch he is sitting on.

Brian Bukle having lunch at a local cafe in Perris, CA. (Apollo Victoria | Survival Media Agency)

Movement to End ICE Transfers Continues to Grow

This past August, the VISION Act failed to pass due to opposition from a few Senators. Still, despite some politicians choosing to maintain the status quo over supporting families like Brian’s, more people across the state are mobilizing to end ICE transfers through a growing multiracial, intergenerational movement for community safety and immigrant justice.

In the wake of the Senate vote, with 18 in support, 13 in opposition, and nine abstaining, the statewide ICE Out of California coalition said: "The Senate’s failure to pass the VISION Act means that families across the state will continue to see long-awaited reunions with loved ones who have earned release from prison or jail turned into a nightmare of family separation and ICE detention…The VISION Act represents the consensus for the future. Those who cling to the failed policies of the past are on the wrong side of history and have betrayed our values of equality and community humanity.”

This fall, more than 200 people came together for a reaction panel led by community members directly harmed by ICE transfers, detention, and deportation, including Gabby Solano, Salesh Prasad, Carlos Muñoz, and Phoeun You, who spoke about what it would have meant to pass the VISION Act and what comes next.

Phoeun You, a beloved community member who was deported to Cambodia in August, shared that ending ICE transfers would mean “Peace and harmony. Humanity would be restored in some way…It will stop the cycle of separation. A lot of innocent bystanders are being impacted by this, there’s children and family and this is not their fault. Political leaders really need to consider that. The ripple effect is huge. We could do so much more to rebuild our community than just be sent off like this.”

At the end of the discussion, panelists shared a toolkit to help community members take action to end the harms created by ICE detention and deportation and support immigrant and refugee communities.

It will take the bravery and perseverance of people like Brian to hold ICE accountable, work to redress the harms created by this abusive agency, and inspire other impacted people to speak out and demand change in their communities. Take a moment to watch the October community discussion and join in the growing movement to end ICE transfers.

Brain Bukle smiles while leaning against a tree in a community park. He wears a gray cap and a t-shirt with purple sleeves.

Brian Bukle on the outdoor grounds of the Perris Public Library. (Apollo Victoria | Survival Media Agency)