After a sustained period of hypercriminalization, the United States criminal justice system is undergoing reform. Congress has reduced federal sentencing for drug crimes, prison growth is slowing, and some states are even closing prisons. Low-level crimes have been removed from criminal law books, and attention is beginning to focus on long-neglected issues such as bail and criminal court fines. Still largely overlooked in this era of ambitious reform, however, is the treatment of immigrants in the criminal justice system. An unprecedented focus on immigration enforcement targeted at “felons, not families” has resulted in a separate system of punitive treatment reserved for noncitizens, which includes crimes of migration, longer periods of pretrial detention, harsher criminal sentences, and the almost certain collateral consequence of lifetime banishment from the United States. For examples of state-level solutions to this predicament, this Essay turns to a trio of bold criminal justice reforms from California that (1) require prosecutors to consider immigration penalties in plea bargaining; (2) change the state definition of “misdemeanor” from a maximum sentence of a year to 364 days; and (3) instruct law enforcement agencies to not hold immigrants for deportation purposes unless they are first convicted of serious crimes. Together, these new laws provide an important window into how state criminal justice systems could begin to address some of the unique concerns of noncitizen criminal defendants.
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