Sandra Castaneda was in prison for 19 years for a murder she didn’t commit. When California courts overturned her conviction in July 2021, the 40-year-old Los Angeles woman did not walk free. She was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and taken to a federal detention center, where she faces deportation to Mexico, a country she left at age nine. Castenada is trapped in a Kafkaesque legal nightmare in which the Department of Homeland Security says she should be deported due to the original murder charge even though her conviction was invalid. The U.S. long has deported immigrants based on their criminal records, routinely detaining people convicted of a wide range of offenses, The Guardian reports.
As the U.S. justice system reckons with its past and states have passed reform laws meant to right the wrongs of mass incarceration and unjust convictions, the immigration system has not caught up. That means that tens of thousands of people over the years have faced deportation even after courts have overturned their convictions, granted expungements and erased the offenses from their criminal records, legal experts estimate. Tn recent years, the U.S. government has actively thwarted new state reforms meant to fix this problem and stop deportations based on flawed convictions.