600 California Faith Leaders to Governor Newsom: Stop Transfers to ICE; Broaden Releases.

Six hundred faith and community leaders across California have signed the following faith letter urging Governor Gavin Newsom to suspend California’s role in collaborating with ICE in the transfer of immigrants who are eligible to be released from local and state custody to immigration detention facilities during the state of emergency.

The letter includes:

  • 53 endorsements from denominations, religious networks, conferences and non-profit organizations.
  • 600 signatures from faith leaders and organizations, including rabbis, imams, ministers, priests, sisters, lay leaders, buddhists, and many others.
  • 162 cities from the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, Central Valley, Los Angeles, and beyond

“Jewish history teaches us: When those who have the power of governance, have the power to save lives and don’t, because certain lives are considered disposable, history and faith will condemn these actions.” —Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Board Chair, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity

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Faith leaders representing over 10 million of California’s religiously diverse electorate held a series of meetings with the governor’s office asking him to use his executive authority to protect and save lives of those incarcerated in prisons and immigration detention centers during the pandemic.  Faith leaders outlined several actions that the governor could take, the first being to stop the practice of transferring California residents who earn release from prison into the hands of ICE. 

“Our faith traditions demand we disrupt the dehumanizing practices of ICE.  575 people deemed safe for release from prisons have been transferred directly to ICE. They should be protected. They are our community members. It was disheartening to hear the excuses from the Governor’s office while families are living in fear of their loved ones being transferred to detention.”

Rev. Dr. Allison Tanner, Justice Advocacy Representative of the West,  Alliance of Baptists, a national network of 140 congregations. 

Despite their pleadings, on Monday, August 31st, two longtime California residents, Patricia Waller, a Belizean domestic violence survivor and Tien Pham, a Vietnamese refugee were transferred into ICE custody after earning release from state prisons.  Patricia Waller survived decades of abuse and won her release from prison after fifteen years of incarceration. Tien Pham had been incarcerated since he was an adolescent, and was granted parole by Gov. Newsom after two decades of incarceration. Both of them were denied the ability to reunite with family members and  adhere to their plan of re-entry and instead were transferred to ICE custody and  taken to a detention facility in Colorado. 

Faith leaders and Pham’s family recently met with the governor’s staff and urged the governor to halt the voluntary practice of ICE transfers.  Faith leaders submitted a written letter endorsed by 53 faith institutions and signed by 600 California faith leaders, urging the governor to stop the state’s practice of transferring non-citizens who earn release and parole into ICE detention.

Pham’s family waited for him outside of San Quentin State Prison on what was supposed to be his first day of freedom, but were not allowed to embrace him.  “Tien has been living away from our family for over 20 years in prison. Every day the thought of whether he is safe in prison or not stresses us, especially our elderly parents,” said Lien Pham, Pham’s youngest sister. “Now ICE has taken him away from our family again.”

Faith leaders expressed anger at the transfer of Waller and Pham on Monday and disappointment at the reluctance of the governor’s office to take bolder action to stop sending people into ICE detention.

“I thank Governor Brown for giving me a second chance. I had a Life Without Parole sentence and there are so many others like me who have been commuted, have come out and are flourishing. We are asking you to increase interviews, clemencies and commutations so people have a chance to go before the parole board.  There are many people incarcerated with Life Without Parole sentences who have done over 25 years incarcerated, are over age 50 and evidence shows are safe to be released.”

Taewon Jamil Wilson, from Families United to End Life Without Parole (FUEL), whose sentence was commuted in 2018

Faith leaders also urged the governor to increase clemencies, commutations and releases to protect the health and safety of all those incarcerated as thousands of those in the care of the California Department of Corrections have tested positive to COVID and where 49 people have already died. 

“While Governor Newsom boldly and courageously urges the general public to follow the science to help abate the coronavirus pandemic and uses his executive powers to assuage compliance, he waxes and wanes, however, in applying the science and appropriating his executive powers to protect the safety and well-being of the state’s carceral population. The Governor prefers to parcel out which lives matter. He fails to acknowledge that in the midst of a pandemic every person under the control of the CDCR matters, and that their past criminal history should not be a barrier to consideration of health protections and release.” 

Rev. Larry W. Foy, of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, a statewide statewide interfaith network of  200 congregations and 2000 faith leaders

Faith communities also urged the governor to use the legal authority of the attorney general’s office to investigate, regulate and hold accountable private operators of detention facilities in the state where numerous deaths and health violations have been reported.

 “Catholic Social Teaching calls us to accompany and walk with those in need.  This is why we strongly oppose ICE transfers from jails and prisons during Covid-19, and call on the governor to increase the release of those held in detention centers and to investigate the inhumane conditions in these ICE facilities.”

Madeleine Kirkconnell, co-promoter of justice & peace for the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael and the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose.

Faith communities vow to continue to stand with families with loved ones incarcerated and detained noting that although the Governor ordered an executive moratorium on the Death Penalty in California in 2019, 78 persons incarcerated persons have died in California jails, prisons or detention centers since April 2020.

Organizations who were part of the meetings with the Governor’s office include: Interfaith  Movement for Human Integrity, United Methodist Church, California/Nevada Conference, City of Refuge Church of Los Angeles, Council on American Islamic Relations, California Catholic Conference of the Bishops of California, Dominican Sisters of San Rafael and the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose,  Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry of California, the Diocese of San Bernardino.

Religion News Service, September 7, 2020: “600 faith leaders sign letter urging California governor to stop transfer of incarcerated people to ICE”