After spending 12 years in prison for a robbery committed when he was 22, Charles Joseph was ready to be with his wife and three children.

Instead, Immigration and Customs took the Fijian natives into custody immediately in May 2019. Almost a year later, he was released from Mesa Verde Immigration Detention Center in Bakersfield because he was at high risk for coronavirus but must be deported at any time.

“It’s like I’ve been punished twice after my time,” said Joseph, who lives in Sacramento but is represented by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. “I don’t know when you can pick me up, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I live with that every day. “

If he had struck a plea deal rather than unsuccessfully battling charges in a trial, Joseph would be able to apply for an exemption from deportation after being convicted under state law in 2016. That right could be extended to people like Joseph under a law introduced Wednesday by Congregation member David Chiu.

“I’ve heard and been involved in too many situations of community members who, after years in prison and after paying their debts to society, are suddenly transferred to ICE just as they are being released,” said Chiu, who represents San Francisco . “We want to give these people at least a chance. These stories are heartbreaking. “

Congregation Law 1259 would also allow non-citizens to challenge old convictions through a judicial process if the defendant was unaware that the consequences could later lead to imprisonment and deportation. You would then be faced again with the original charges, with the credit applied for the time served, armed with the relevant information.

The bill was brought to Chiu by co-sponsors Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of California, and California criminal justice attorneys. It builds on Assembly Bill 813, passed in 2016, to provide a post-conviction facility for those unaware of the immigration consequences that admission of guilt would entail.

“It was just incredibly important to give individuals the opportunity to challenge old, illegal convictions,” said Rose Cahn, ILRC executive attorney. “However, there was a small fraction of people who just weren’t given that chance and they were people with court judgments. The idea that a person is being deported from the United States on the basis of an illegal conviction should shock our entire consciousness. “

Bill proponents cannot determine how many people AB 1259 would apply for, but estimate it to be hundreds if not thousands. Carla Gomez, a deputy attorney in San Francisco’s Immigration Defense Department, said her office overturned about 26 convictions under AB 813 in 2020, nine of which were outside of San Francisco, and had encountered three legal cases, among which were not State law could be evacuated.

Eddy Zheng, a long-time Oakland resident born in China, has a case similar to Joseph in which he was jailed on a robbery conviction and detained for extended periods by ICE after his release in 2005. However, this was a rare occurrence and he was able to obtain a pardon from the government at the time. Jerry Brown, and successfully campaigned for the San Francisco District Attorney to drop depreciable charges of massive community support before AB 813.

Zheng is now the founder and president of the New Breath Foundation, a group committed to receiving and providing grants to families with Asian and Pacific islanders who have been affected by mass imprisonment, deportation and violence.

“It is important to remove those kinds of barriers to … that kind of relief,” Zheng said. “This would enable families in California, on the one hand, not to fear that their families will be separated from the consequences of immigration. That should have happened a long time ago. “

Joseph is in the same boat as he must summon intense community support to convince a person in power – this time Governor Gavin Newsom – to grant a pardon. The San Francisco Board of Trustees unanimously decided in September to endorse the pardon requested in 2019, and other officials in Northern California have done the same. The fact that his fate is in the hands of a single person involved in politics, including a recall, adds to the uncertainty in restoring his legal permanent residence status.

If the attempt to win a pardon fails, his children would experience what Joseph did when he was 15 when his father was deported to Fiji. He hasn’t seen him since.

“This is what I really fight for, I fight for my children,” said Joseph. “I know what it is like to be permanently separated from my parents. It caused a lot of anger and frustration. I went from a 4.0 student to a runaway student. “

Joseph now works for the Interfaith Human Integrity Movement teaching music, a lifelong love of his. It remains to be seen whether he will be allowed to pursue these passions and stay with his children.

“This would allow for a much simpler process that doesn’t require the very intense community organization that needs to take place now to reach people from our community,” said Chiu of AB 1259. “We know them, we trust them, they have for Atoned for their past crimes. This bill is really about keeping California families healthy by preventing deportation and incarceration for faulty beliefs. “

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