By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief
SACRAMENTO – Despite pleas from his own Democratic Party, and dire threats that the move could help spread COVID-19 in Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities, Gov. Gavin Newsom Monday allowed his Dept of Corrections to hand over two people to ICE for transfer to facilities in Colorado.
The move appeared to shock advocates for ICE detainees Monday.
Those passed off were Patricia Waller, a Belizean domestic violence survivor, and Tien Pham, a Vietnamese refugee.
Waller survived decades of abuse and won her release from prison after 15 years of incarceration. Pham has been incarcerated since he was a child, and was granted parole by Gov. Newsom after two decades of incarceration
“Gov. Governor Newsom has continued to ignore past warning signs of the dangers of transfers to ICE detention during the pandemic. New evidence has linked the transfer of people from various state prisons to the outbreak of COVID-19 in ICE detention facilities,” according to a statement issued by Advancing Justice — Asian Law Caucus, that added, “ICE systematically deprives thousands of immigrants of liberty each day, with significant medical neglect and other human rights abuses.”
Advocates said Pham and Waller’s transfer to ICE comes at a bad time, when the growing COVID-19 pandemic is hitting California’s prison system, jails, and ICE detention centers the hardest.
A letter signed by 45 state lawmakers, and local leaders, urged the governor to halt ICE transfers.
“(W)e respectfully ask you to protect all Californians by issuing an executive order that suspends transfers to ICE as long as COVID-19 poses a public health threat to community members in immigration detention. We look forward to collaborating with your office to ensure California continues to lead on immigrant rights and protecting public health,” concluded the letter.
The lawmakers noted that COVID-19 is the game-changer.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made it abundantly clear that the fates of all Californians– including detained immigrant community members — are intertwined. As long as California continues to transfer community members to immigration detention where conditions are indisputably dangerous and even deadly, we cannot meaningfully stem the spread of COVID-19.
“As the federal administration further steps up attacks on our immigrant communities to increase fear and tear apart immigrant families, and as our immigration detention facilities have become a tinderbox for this deadly virus, we strongly believe California has an ethical and moral obligation to exercise bold and responsive leadership and take action to protect the rights of immigrants and the public health,” wrote the officials.
The families and communities of Pham and Waller said they are “devastated and anxious because their loved ones are now in ICE custody.”
“Patricia Waller is a kind and patient person. She trained me to be a construction worker while we were incarcerated,” said Maria Legarda, a friend of Waller’s who also experienced an ICE transfer.
“All the supervisors went to her for help on special projects. Imagine how the community today would benefit from someone like her. She is a survivor of all sorts, and it’s a complete tragedy that Gov. Newsom let ICE take Patti away from her loved ones,” She added.”
Pham’s family waited for him outside of San Quentin State Prison on Monday morning, but could not embrace Pham on what was supposed to be his first day of freedom.
“Tien has been living away from our family for over 20 years in prison. Every day the thought of him being safe in prison or not stresses us, especially our elderly parents,” said Lien Pham, Pham’s youngest sister.
She added, “Now ICE has taken him away from our family again. We worry for his adaptation, his health in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic and a high chance of COVID-19 exposure during the transfer, and above all the same mental stress my family would go through worrying for his safety.”
Waller and Pham will be transferred thousands of miles from their family and community to be detained in an ICE detention facility in Colorado.