By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Capitol Bureau
SACRAMENTO – Gov. Gavin Newsom could play Santa Claus to the U.S. Immigration and Border Enforcement (ICE)’s Grinch this holiday season.
At least that what supporters of Charles Joseph hope will happen.
Joseph, snatched and thrown into an ICE immigration cell the very day he was released from state prison on parole earlier this year, has only two real avenues to prevent deportation, torture and possible death in his native Fiji, according to supporters at a rally in front of Newsom’s office Thursday.
One avenue is a court decision by federal immigration authorities to release Joseph and not send him back to Fiji, where he has not been since he came with his family when he was a child.
The other avenue is to convince Newsom to pardon Joseph, which would lead to a release from ICE custody, restoration of his lawful permanent status and a chance to apply for full citizenship.
But for now, said supporters Thursday, Joseph is in a private ICE prison in Bakersfield, where he has languished for eight months. Joseph is one of thousands of immigrants who, after serving a sentence in state prison and found suitable for release, are transferred directly to ICE rather than being reunited with their families and communities.
Asking Newsom for help is not necessarily a longshot. He has pardoned others held by ICE and they’ve been allowed to join family and communities.
However, Newsom also vetoed legislation in November that would have prevented state prison officers from cooperating with unlawful immigration arrests of people held in state prison.
Thursday, in front of Newsom’s office – the governor was out of town – interfaith speakers from at least six different faiths prayed for the governor to pardon Joseph, a model prisoner, they said, in his 13 years in custody for robbing a Sacramento convenience store.
“We ask for forgiveness and redemption…to open the governor’s eyes to see how he (Joseph) has changed his life…for the governor to take the step to make this truly a sanctuary state,” speakers said.
“You have the power to set captives free,” according to a statement from Sacramento Catholic Diocese Bishop Jaime Soto.
Joseph’s cause also has the backing of Assemblymember Robert Bonta (D-Bay Area), State Senator Steven Bradford (D-Los Angeles), State Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), the California Democratic Party and Asian Pacific Islander Caucus.
“We hope this can open the eyes of the governor,” said Joseph’s wife Shelly, who was there with Joseph’s daughters Hope, 12, and Carly, 6.
The group also presented the governor’s office with thousands of signed postcards, petitions, and letters of support calling on the Governor to pardon Joseph.
An appeal by the San Francisco Public Defenders Office filed last week with the U.S. Dept. of Justice Board of Immigration challenged an October decision by an immigration judge that denied Joseph relief under the “convention against torture.”
According to the pleading Joseph fears being tortured by authorities in Fiji, and that he will be targeted both as a Rastafarian and as Inda-Fijian.
“The (court) erred when holding that the evidence did not establish that Mr. Joseph would be tortured if deported to Fiji, ignoring evidence in the record that torture and impunity is rampant in Fiji against criminal suspects, and that Charles would be identified as such because of the combination of his Inda-Fijian ethnicity, his long dreadlocks and Rastafarian religion and lifestyle,” the pleading said.
The filing quoted Joseph as confirming “It’s inevitable, you know? This is-it’s not even a calculation, it’s just a fact. .. We know the sun will rise in the morning. Me having dreads, me being a Rasta, it’s a fact. .. Them beating me up. Will I defend myself; this is a fact. Will it cause them to beat me up even more, this is another fact. All of this going to the equation, the severity of the beating, the torture …”
The SF public defenders said in its filing that “The (immigration judge) made several errors when rendering her decision denying relief from removal,” including not allowing him to call witnesses – his brother could have testified that those practicing Rastafarian religion are tortured and killed.
Supporters Thursday said the state has an ambiguous relationship with ICE.
“Current California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) practice allows ICE to enter state prisons and detain individuals for the purpose of deportation upon their release…(but) the Governor also allows CDCR to notify ICE of parolee release dates, guaranteeing their immediate detention in contradiction to California’s stated values and refusal to cooperate with ICE. The practice of direct transfers from CDCR into ICE custody results in the detention and deportation of thousands of immigrant community members who have been found suitable for release from state prison,” they charged.
Joseph’s family maintains this is a story 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.”
His family added 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.
At a rally last month for Joseph and other ICE detained immigrants, Nate Tan of Asian Prisoner Support said, “The state says it loves immigrants, but Newson has yet to do anything. 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.”