Rosario came to us at De-Bug last week for assistance regarding her son who had an immigration detainer hold at San Mateo County’s juvenile hall. We helped her create a “mitigation packet” — a package of letters, photos, and history that would be used to tell the fuller story of her son. He had already spent a good 7 months at camp, had an excellent report card, supportive probation officers, and a dedicated mom who kept every single certificate her son earned in school and at camp. In San Mateo County, Probation Chief John Keene stopped the practice of referring juveniles to ICE on a routine basis, except for ‘rare and exceptional cases’ — in which he would have the sole power of deciding whether or not to transfer a youth to ICE custody. This practice came after a four year campaign by the San Mateo County Coalition for Immigrants Rights, which De-Bug is a part of, to reverse this harsh policy. This mitigation packet was to be presented to the Chief to ask him not to enforce an ICE hold on Rosario’s son.
Cesar’s family came to De-Bug almost at their wit’s end. Their son was nearing the end of his 9 year prison sentence and was facing imminent deportation. During the 9 years, his family had searched for a lawyer, only to be told it was too complicated. However, we helped find a fierce immigration lawyer and advocate in Helen Lawrence to complete our team. “Team Cesar” — his family, church, and community support — put together an almost 200 page mitigation packet of Cesar’s life; helped find experts for his case; organized community support at hearings; conducted fundraisers for his legal defense. His entire community bonded together to help push for Cesar’s release, which resulted in a habeas release granted in criminal court, re-sentencing, and a bond hearing in immigration court that freed Cesar from almost 10 years in custody (almost 9 years in prison, and over a year in immigration detention). Click here to hear his story and see the photo essay. Photography by Charisse Domingo
Immigration court in San Francisco has two branches — one for those in custody, and ones for those who have been released. For those in custody, they remain shackled, are dressed in ICE jail clothes of green and soft orange shoes, and cannot have any contact with family or friends who are there to support them. Even when their case is up for deliberation, they remain in chains.
Usually, the courtrooms for the detained are deserts. It is the detainee, sometimes with their attorney, against the prosecutor and the judge. But yesterday, for this young man’s court, 16 people filled the courtroom. He had his fierce attorney by his side. And in the seats — family, clergy of various faiths, De-Bug, a San Mateo County District Attorney and a Private Defender who had helped see him through his case, sat to bear witness, to support, and to send a message that there is a community of people who want this young man home.
This is a picture of him and his mother holding each other for a brief moment, after nearly 8 months in ICE custody. This young man is now in his 30’s, but in this moment of embrace, he is the loved child, holding his mother tight in a difficult time. – Photo and Submission Post by Charisse Domingo
“It was the policy of the San Mateo County juvenile probation department to report youth to immigration enforcement officials regardless of the nature of their juvenile offense and before youth had even seen a juvenile court judge or met with their defense attorneys. In Yareli’s case, she had no idea that she was talking to an ICE official. She explained, “My probation officer asked me ‘do you have papers?’ I said no. I can’t lie to them, so I said no. Then they told me to go talk to this person. He just started asking me questions, and at the end he said, ‘By the way, I’m an ICE agent.”
…The underlying purpose of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate youth and protect the community. In California, for example, the goals of the juvenile justice system include providing treatment that is in the minor’s best interest, rehabilitating youth, and preserving and reuniting families. Reporting youth to ICE directly undercuts these goals because it renders youth vulnerable to physical and emotional harm, undermines their prospects for rehabilitation, weakens family ties, and violates the foundational principles of the juvenile justice system to help youth successfully transition into adulthood.”
— Excerpt from “Two-Tiered System for Juveniles”, co-written by Angie Junck (ILRC), Charisse Domingo (De-Bug), and Helen Beasley (CLSEPA)
The Sentencing Project and First Focus released a new publication this month called “Children In Harm’s Way” that highlights the experiences of those caught in the crossroads of the criminal justice, immigration, and child welfare systems. One of the articles, “Two Tiered System for Juveniles” was co-authored by Charisse Domingo with Silicon Valley De-Bug’s ACJP, along with Angie Junck from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and Helen Beasley from Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto. This article highlights the practice of juvenile ICE holds in San Mateo County and the local coalition’s efforts to stop it. It also features the story of an ACJP family who directly experienced the effects of this policy, and won her case through family, community and legal support. To read their article and the full report, click here….
A San Mateo family came to ACJP about 3 months ago after their attorney had heard us present to the Juvenile Private Defenders in San Mateo County on our work on mitigation. It was after their 17 year old son had taken a plea in Santa Clara County but then was transferred to San Mateo County to decide on his disposition. This is usually the case for juveniles who allegedly commit a crime in one county but do not live in that county. In this case, the crime took place in Palo Alto but they live in Redwood City.
They were told at an initial meeting by a probation officer in San Mateo County that he was recommending 30 days in-custody time for the young man. Not only could this be harsh for him, but it would expose him to potentially devastating immigration consequences. His attorney had been impressed by the number of people who showed up to his first hearing in San Mateo, and she wanted ACJP to help in capturing that community support in order to help convince the judge for a different disposition.
In a short amount of time, we gathered letters from different mentors in this young man’s life — adults who had always seen him as intelligent, gentle, and carried leadership potential. These words describing him were in many of those letters. Many of them said they didn’t know what to say, but it turned out they just didn’t know how to begin. So we would say, “Just write about him — write your observations, how long you’ve known him, and what kind of support you think you can give him.” In came a flood of letters — compassionate, heartfelt. One woman who went to church with him and the family wrote, “I would ask the court to show him mercy, not because he doesn’t need to see the consequences of his actions, but because I don’t believe he’s too far gone to be helped and supported to make better decisions. That light is still in him. When I see him now, he’s still the same kid who’ll make an extra batch of French fries when company’s over; who’ll show up early or stay late to vacuum, decorate a room or load cars after church events. I know there’s a lot of good in that mind and heart of his and a very bright future ahead, if he can be made to see that.”
When this young man’s hearing came on Friday, the attorney prepared him and his family for the worst. To the 12 family and community members who showed up in support, she said that she would still plead for an out of custody placement, especially pointing to the large community support that was willing to step up for him. By the time she had met with the District Attorney and Probation Officer, she was beaming with excitement. They had agreed to offer him a program that not only would be out of custody, but would remove his felony plea as soon as he completes a year of good behavior. It was something even the attorney didn’t anticipate. The letters — especially the one from his parents — made the difference.
As a result, this young man is home, and he can continue on with pursuing his dreams in life — of going to culinary school, fixing his immigration matters. Being able to harness the power of community in a “packet” helps decisionmakers see the young person in front of them as more than just their case file. We believe the justice system is ultimately colored by our own human eyes and sentiment, and being able to show the fullness of someone’s life and community not only changes the outcome of a case, but transforms the system as a whole. — Submission Post by Charisse Domingo
This week, we at ACJP worked with a family and their attorney to put together an almost 100 page mitigation packet to help support their loved one’s deportation proceedings and hopefully convince immigration officials to let their brother stay in the US. Their brother and his siblings were victims of a horrific crime, one that has traumatized him and his family for years.
One of the parts of the packet is a photo album of the family with their brother. Sifting through hundreds of photographs that their mother and sister very diligently kept, one photograph stood out. This is a photo of the Christmas tree that they put up every year, and one of the most special ornaments is a picture of their brother with the family. He has spent nearly 9 Christmases away from them, struggling to fight his case. They put the picture up as a loving message to him that he is with them, and hopefully soon enough –he will come home.
Two weeks ago, De-Bug’s ACJP presented to the San Mateo County Juvenile Private Defender’s Program on our work in supporting families develop mitigation packets. This presentation was part of a longer session on San Mateo County Probation’s ICE referral policy for youth. Coordinated by Adam Wells Ely, a juvenile private defender who has been active in local efforts to stop this referral practice, De-Bug co-presented with Helen Beasley from Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto and Alison Kamhi from the Stanford Law School’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. A key part of the change advocated by the San Mateo County Coalition for Immigrant Rights to the Probation Chief’s policy on referring youth to immigration was that before a probation officer was to make a referral to ICE, the juvenile private defender and the youth’s family were to be notified so they could present mitigating information that can help the PO to decide otherwise. Thus, being able to gather that information by the team of people supporting their loved one can be key to helping stop an ICE referral.
De-Bug’s ACJP shared different examples of mitigation packets we developed that resulted in families being able to change the outcome of their loved ones’ cases — from a packet of letters, to photo diaries, to a mini-documentary video that helps the court system see the full life of the person behind the case file. Thanks to San Mateo County’s Private Defender’s Program for acknowledging the role and value of community in advocating for loved ones in the courts!
On Tuesday, October 2, 2012, the East Palo Alto City Council unanimously adopted a resolution to urge the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and Probation Chief Stu Forrest from referring youth to federal immigration officials. San Mateo County continues to be one of the highest referring counties in California to ICE, even after the Department changed their policy in January 2012 after discovering they were referring youth under the jurisdiction of an outdated law. De-Bug’s ACJP has been part of the San Mateo County Coalition for Immigrant Rights that continues to assert that all youth, regardless of their citizenship status, should be rehabilitated — and that the threat of deportation should not be in anyone’s pocket as a potential for punishment. Our youngest ACJP member, a 14 year old from Redwood City, experienced 42 days in immigration detention before being reunified with his parents. He is still fighting his deportation case, but the lapse in services has impacted him tremendously — as now he has to also deal with the trauma of being separated 3,000 miles away from his family. We applaud the EPA City Council for standing with this young man and sending a message that an entire community has his back. — Submission Post by Charisse Domingo
To read the resolution, click the image below….
This is a photo taken in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in San Francisco. Adults who are jailed and youth who are detained and catch an ICE hold are sent to this facility so they could be processed for immigration proceedings. One East Palo Alto youth remembers being shackled upon her release from Hillcrest Juvenile Detention facility in San Mateo County, put in a van where you can’t see what’s outside, and then taken here. She was then placed in a room for “hours and hours” until she was put on a plane to go to a group home in Southern California, where she spent four months before being reunited with her family to fight her deportation proceedings.
The flag that flies on a street pole by the detention facility reads “Change the World From Here”. In a place filled with fear and uncertainty, hope comes in the form of the families who fight tenaciously for their loved ones’ release. They all walk in the metal doors of the building knowing that they will bring their loved one home. — Submission Post by Charisse Domingo
This is a photo of ACJP De-Bug’s youngest member — only 14 years old, who had an immigration court proceeding today in San Francisco. He’s been coming to our weekly meetings for months now with his family and we’ve grown to know and love his quiet strength.
Scanning the courtroom, he was also the youngest person there who was facing deportation. The air was thick with apprehension, of not knowing what was going to happen, and greater than that — of the fear of ICE agents coming into court right then and there. In the waiting room that looks like a doctor’s office, the brown faces from Mexico, Central America, and Asia are furrowed. But this young man has incredible courage, far more than what he realizes himself. He stares down at his paperwork the whole time. The pro-bono attorney of the day rapidly runs through paperwork to give him and says will ask for a continuance. She battle-runs through the same set of questions we had seen her ask the Chinese person before us, and the Latino couple right before him. “Where are you from?” “Where is your family?” — All questions that are loaded and sterile at the same time, given the place we were at this morning.
They call his name from the bench and the pro-bono attorney motions with two fingers to come to the front. “You’re not alone up there,” I told him. “I know,” he says. “God is with me.” And he smiles. It’s only 5 minutes that he’s up there, but the wait was about an hour and a half. From the audience, I tell myself it’s all procedural today, but every pause of the judge pushes me closer to the edge of my seat. At the end, another court date is set, and he breathes a sigh of relief outside. He looks up again and can’t wait to run to his mom.
Young people should be thinking about school, sports, what music they like — not deportation proceedings. I am hoping the human side of the immigration system breaks through for this young man, and for all young people and their families. — Submission Post by Charisse Domingo