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San Francisco Board of Supervisors Unanimously Passes Resolution Urging Governor Newsom to Pardon Immigrant Rights Leader Charles Joseph

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 23, 2020

SAN FRANCISCO  – Last night, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution, authored by Supervisor Dean Preston and co-sponsored by every member of the Board of Supervisors, urging Governor Newsom to pardon Charles Joseph. Joseph, an immigrant rights leader, father and violence-prevention mentor who radically transformed his life while incarcerated, is facing deportation due to his past conviction. He is seeking a pardon to remain in the United States with his family in Sacramento, restore his status as a legal permanent resident, and continue contributing to his community.

“Charles Joseph’s story of transformation – both in his own life as well as his positive influence on the lives around him – is inspiring,” said Supervisor Dean Preston. “I am proud to stand with Mr. Joseph, along with my colleagues on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, in urging the Governor to grant him an immediate and full pardon.” 

Charles Joseph has been a client of the Public Defender’s Office since May 2019, but he is much more than a client. Charles has become a leader and an ally in so many different ways — he has spoken out against unsafe conditions in immigration detention facilities, has been a featured speaker in nationwide panels about mass incarceration, and even conducted a training for my staff on the impact of ICE detention,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju, whose Immigration Defense Unit represents Mr. Joseph in his deportation case. “We are part of the campaign to support Charles and his family because we know that he will continue to make a positive contribution in the movement for criminal justice reform as well as immigration reform.”

Charles Joseph came to the United States when he was 14 years old from Fiji, where his family faced persecution as ethnic and political minorities. His father was placed in deportation proceedings just one year later, leaving his mother to support the children. Although he always loved music, Mr. Joseph fell in with some bad influences and took part in a robbery when he was 22 years old, which sent him to prison for 12 years. 

While in prison, Mr. Joseph became a leader and peacemaker, helping others to process their anger and express their creativity. He was able to have a music mentor, country music star Lacy Dalton, who has also offered her support for his pardon. 

Upon completing his 12-year prison sentence in May 2019, rather than being released to his wife and children, he was immediately taken into custody by ICE. He spent nearly a year in the privately-run Mesa Verde immigration detention center in Bakersfield, California, until he was released in April 2020 as part of a lawsuit against ICE for its inability to protect medically-vulnerable detainees at high risk of contracting the coronavirus. Mr. Joseph suffers from asthma, and was granted release by a federal judge, but was ordered to wear an electronic ankle monitor while he awaits deportation. 

Prior to his conviction, Mr. Joseph was a legal permanent resident, but immigration judges are prevented from granting him discretionary relief because of his past conviction even though he is completely rehabilitated. This is why a large community of supporters – including several faith groups and immigrant rights organizations – are asking Governor Newsom to pardon him. A pardon will allow him to remain in the U.S. with his wife and children – who are all U.S. citizens – and protect him from the political violence he could face if forced to return to Fiji.

“I have known Charles and his family for over a year, and have witnessed his leadership through his advocacy, musical talents, and spiritual gifts, which he shares abundantly with many others,” said Reverend Deborah Lee, Executive Director of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity. “Charles has used his story to illuminate how the U.S. criminal justice and immigration systems have harmed immigrant communities, and that through the power of transformation and redemption we will all be restored.”

“Judaism, like all faiths, believes in redemption,” said Rabbi Mona Alfi of Congregation B’nai Israel, a Sanctuary Synagogue in Sacramento. “Charles has atoned for his wrongdoing. I believe that people are capable of learning from their past and becoming better human beings because of the struggles they have gone through. That’s exactly what Charles has done. Now more than ever is the time for action. All of us have to raise our voices and call out to the Governor and demand a pardon for Charles Joseph.”

“It was really hard when my dad was taken away from us. It caused a lot of stress for me, my mom, and younger sister. My dad is home with us now, and we need him with us,” said Hope Joseph, the 13-year-old daughter of Charles Joseph.

“I’m overwhelmed and filled with deep appreciation for this support,” said Charles Joseph, upon learning of the vote. “I’m thankful for the leadership of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and for their work to keep families together. I am looking forward to meeting with the Sacramento City Council members in my community, continuing to share my story and gaining their support”

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To learn more about the campaign to support Charles Joseph, please see this short film:

CONTACT:

Valerie Ibarra – SF Public Defender’s Office – (628)249-7946 – Valerie.Ibarra@sfgov.org

Gala King – Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity – (510)759-4196 – GKing@im4humanintegrity.org

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#PrayingforNewsom 10/6 Day of Action!

Since the start of the pandemic, the faith community has joined the broader movement to demand Gov Newsom stop ICE transfers and release more people! On Aug 28th, we submitted a letter signed by 600 faith organizers and 53 organizations demanding Gov Newsome use his executive authority to end ICE transfers.

Unfortunately, Gov Newsom’s office has been silent on this issue. When a reporter posed a question about transferring freed prisoners into ICE custody, this was his response: “It’s been done, historically. It’s been past precedent in previous administrations. We maintain it as the appropriate course for our administration.” You can see his response here (question begins at 53:36). This is unacceptable.

In response, we are calling on all sanctuary congregations and faith communities to join on 10/6/2020 the #FreeThemAll Banner Drop Statewide Day of Action. Essentially, gather 3-4 people from your community to create and hang a banner in front of your congregation, or at a nearby prominent location on Oct 6. Here’s the toolkit so you can read more about what this initiative entails: bit.ly/Oct6freethemall

We’ve brainstormed a few faith messages for the banner. Please include your congregation name or logo.

  • Let Our People Go! #PrayingforNewsom 
  • Release, Not Transfers! #PrayingforNewsom
  • Reunite Families! #PrayingforNewsom
  • Clemencies Now! #PrayingforNewsom
  • Communities Not Cages #PrayingforNewsom

We would love to have every sanctuary congregation and faith community put up a banner as a part of this action! If you can join this action, please RSVP directly here so the organizers have an estimate on how many groups are participating, and let me know as well, gking@im4humanintegrity.org. We will follow up with you to help coordinate our faith communities.

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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

Download the full letter and list of signatories:

Learn More

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”