A Cambodian refugee who drew support from immigrant groups was released Monday from a California prison after being granted parole in a murder case, then immediately turned over to federal agents for possible deportation, his attorney said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom allowed the parole of Tith Ton, now 40, who spent 22 years in prison for killing a rival gang member.
“It’s deeply disappointing that the governor is choosing to work with ICE,” said Anoop Prasad, an attorney with the Asian Law Caucus. “It’s an unjust and illogical practice that is tearing apart communities in California.”
Immigrant rights groups want Newsom to end policies allowing the transfer of prison inmates to federal authorities despite California’s efforts to provide a sanctuary for immigrants.
Prasad argued that Ton had turned his life around in the past two decades and become a substance abuse counselor. In approving his release, Newsom must have agreed that Ton no longer poses a danger to the community, Prasad said.
Newsom’s office didn’t comment other than to confirm that he had allowed the parole.
“We followed normal procedure,” corrections department spokesman Jeffrey Callison said of Ton’s release.
Dozens of people rallied last month on the lawn of the state Capitol in support of Ton and others from Southeast Asia who face possible deportation.
The groups want Newsom to end a corrections department policy of notifying immigration officials of impending releases after the agents file detainers or present an arrest warrant.
A 2017 California law bars local and state agencies from cooperating with immigration authorities involving cases against those who have committed certain crimes, mostly misdemeanors. The rights groups say it also applies to the state prison system.
Ton was picked up Monday by a private government contractor in what immigrant groups contend is a violation of federal law, his attorney said. Newsom this year vetoed a bill that would have blocked private companies from picking up paroled immigrants in California.
In an unrelated parole action, Newsom recently announced that he is denying the parole of Stanley “Little Tookie” Williams IV, son of Crips co-founder “Tookie” Williams. The son, also a Crip, is serving a 16 years-to-life sentence for second-degree murder in the slaying of a rival gang member, a 20-year-old woman in Los Angeles, when he was 18.
Williams has not demonstrated that he understands his “triggers for future violence” nor sufficiently abandoned gang life, Newsom wrote.
His father was executed in 2005 for the murders of four people in Los Angeles despite celebrity support for a stay. He had asserted his innocence, saying he had dropped out of the notorious gang, regretted helping to form it, and written books designed to deter youth from gang life.
California’s most recent execution came about a month later. Newsom has declared a moratorium on executions while he is governor.