By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Capitol Bureau
SACRAMENTO – Most of the images of the Trump Administration’s out-of-control ICE sweeps of immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. have been at or near the border states with Mexico.
But Homeland Security’s long arm reaches thousands inside U.S. prisons, and even those who have been released after serving their sentence.
California prisons now hold about 130,000 prisoners and 11,000 reportedly could be nabbed by ICE.
And Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn’t helped. He vetoed a measure last month that would have prevented state prison officers from cooperating with unlawful immigration arrests of people held in state prison.
At a rally at the State Capitol Friday, about 100 families and friends of those facing deportation after prison sentences called for Gov. Newsom to pardon their loved ones and prevent them from being deported after they have completed their prison terms.
Fiji-born Charles Joseph is one of those. And his ongoing experiences with the U.S. legal system seem to be un-ending, despite, by all accounts, his time as a model prisoner.
After spending 13 years in prison for robbing a convenience store, Joseph was released on parole earlier this year. But his freedom was short-lived when ICE took him into custody immediately. Joseph is being detained at the Mesa Verde Detention Facility, a for-profit prison in Bakersfield.
“We were right at the gate, but ICE took him; we’ve been detained with him since that time,” said his wife Shelly.
Joseph now faces an Oct. 24 judge’s order to deport him back to Fiji, despite what supporters say is a real danger of death in Fiji. According to family and Amnesty International, Fiji has a “history” of discrimination and torture, and Joseph’s Indo-Fijian ancestry and Rastafarian identity are problematic if he returns to the islands.
If Joseph and the other prisoners with supporters at the Capitol Friday are pardoned then they could have their lawful permanent status restored, they can apply for citizenship and be with family and communities.
Joseph has a mother, Alumita Siva, and wife Shelly – both spoke on the north side of the Capitol Friday – and daughters, Hope, 12, and Carly, 6.
“We’re going to work together to make things happen (Newsom pardon),” said Siva at the Capitol. “This also happened to my husband…he never came back (and) that really affected my son. He was great in school, but he missed his father’s support…” she added, and pleaded with the governor to “not breakup our family.”
Joseph’s story is about the “entanglement of criminal law with immigration law, which often has extraordinarily punishing outcomes. In this case, it affects the life and family of a rehabilitated husband and father who has transformed his life and positively influenced those around him,” according to supporters.
His family maintains that Joseph, who came here at 14, should be free – he did his time and seemingly transformed his life.
In prison, they insist, Joseph was “involved in group therapy, art, and music….a leader in violence-prevention programs, and dedicated himself to being an artist, musician, husband, father, and community member. He also became more spiritual, and currently identifies and practices as a Rastafarian” (and worked with Special Olympians, and created original music for a performance of Shakespeare’s Pericles, collaborating with other students to score original pieces.
An online petition quotes Hope Joseph, his daughter: “to me it is important for my dad to stay in the U.S. because he can help everyone, he can teach me and my little sister new things or how to get better at some things like art and soccer for me and just art for my little sister, he can teach me new designs for my doll dresses and he can teach me how to draw better, he can help me manage my emotions and help everyone feel good on a bad day.”
“Having my husband to finally join us here with our two daughters who are now eleven and six years old will be the biggest contribution towards our family. He will be able to help and support towards their growth and mentorship to do better in life and someone that they will be able to look up to,” said his wife Shelly in the same petition.
The petition can be found at: http://chng.it/GYjmVSXP4q
After rallying for about two hours Friday, the 100 or so supporters of Joseph and other current and past state prisoners threatened with deportation, visited lawmakers and delivered 40,000 signatures to the governor.
“The state says it loves immigrants, but Newson has yet to do anything,” said Nate Tan of Asian Prisoner Support. “All we’re asking is stop letting ICE (deport people). It’s the governor’s responsibility to stop building prisons and giving in to ICE,” he added.
Tan, who also urged the U.S. to “stop the wars and making refugees,” was representing the Cambodian community, who want the state to stop handing over Cambodian prisoners to ICE.
They asked Newsom to pardon Saman Pho, who is now – like Joseph – being held for deportation, and parole Tith Ton so he wouldn’t be transferred to ICE.
Tan said that about 700 Cambodian war refugees with criminal history, even decades old, had been grabbed by ICE after Cambodia began accepting deportees recently. Like other immigrants, many sent back came to the U.S. as children and don’t speak the native language.
Ton, for instance, was brought to the U.S. as a baby. After 22 years in prison – he was convicted of killing a gang member – he was granted parole in his first hearing last July. The state plans to turn him over to ICE shortly.