SF Dems pass resolution on behalf of queer detainee

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Wednesday November 2, 2022
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The San Francisco Democratic Party has approved a resolution urging Governor Gavin Newsom to pardon Salesh Prasad, a queer man in ICE detention. Photo: Courtesy Salesh Prasad
The San Francisco Democratic Party has approved a resolution urging Governor Gavin Newsom to pardon Salesh Prasad, a queer man in ICE detention. Photo: Courtesy Salesh Prasad

The San Francisco Democratic Party on October 26 approved a resolution urging Governor Gavin Newsom to pardon Salesh Prasad, a queer man who is in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody and faces deportation.

As the Bay Area Reporter recently reported, Prasad, 51, is at risk of being deported to Fiji, a country he left over 44 years ago. He came to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident when he was a child. But, at 22, he "made a horrible mistake in the heat of an argument and unfortunately took another person's life," as Prasad wrote in a Guest Opinion in the Bay Area Reporter in July.

Last month, several faith-based and human rights organizations issued a call to action, urging people to contact Newsom's office to request that he issue a pardon for Prasad.

Prasad was found eligible for release from prison due to his rehabilitation and remorse, according to the call to action. However, in August 2021, after being found eligible for parole, instead of being released to the community, he was directly transferred from prison to ICE custody at Golden State Annex. Shortly after he was detained by ICE, his mother died from COVID, and ICE denied him the opportunity to be released, even temporarily, to say goodbye or to attend her funeral. He has been detained by ICE for over nine months now.

The San Francisco Democratic Party adopted a resolution sponsored by queer BART vice president Janice Li, a member of its governing body, and Public Defender Mano Raju, whose office represents Prasad.

"Be it resolved that the San Francisco County Central Committee urges Governor Newsom to grant Mr. Prasad a full pardon in order for him to remain lawfully in the United States with his family and his community, and that copies of this resolution shall be sent to Governor Newsom," the resolution states.

The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Gay former state Assemblymember and San Francisco supervisor Tom Ammiano was pleased that the local party passed the resolution.

"As a member of the queer community, the story of Salesh Prasad resonates with me deeply," Ammiano wrote in a letter to the B.A.R. He noted that in addition to the local Democratic Party, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the Stanislaus County Democratic Party also approved resolutions urging Newsom to issue the pardon.

"It breaks my heart to think that Sal could spend another holiday season away from his chosen and biological family," Ammiano stated. "And it terrifies me to think that Sal could be banished thousands of miles away from the only home he has ever known since he was 6."

Ammiano pointed out that Prasad earned his release from prison through a rigorous process. "Like any other Californian, he should have been able to reunite with his loved ones, rebuild his life, and become a contributing member of our community," he wrote. "But instead, he was subject to a cruel double punishment, and transferred to ICE detention."

The groups that have organized the call to action are the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, based in Fresno; the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, a statewide nonprofit based in Oakland; and the New York-based Queer Detainee Empowerment Project.

The Reverend Deborah Lee, executive director of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, issued a statement in July, after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed its resolution urging Newsom to pardon Prasad.

"Sal is a freedom fighter and an artist, who generously shares his gifts with others around him. His spiritual path of redemption is a model for all of us," Lee stated. "Sal has the support and love of his community, including the faith community here in San Francisco, and should be released."

In his B.A.R. op-ed, Prasad wrote about his life. Since he left Fiji decades ago, he said that he was afraid he would not survive the homophobia there.

"My story starts with my family, which is Indo-Fijian," Prasad wrote. "My parents left Fiji because they wanted a better life for their children. I arrived in Modesto, California as a lawful permanent resident at just 6 years old.

"As a child in the United States, I survived both sexual abuse and domestic violence," he explained in the op-ed. "I felt like I was crying out for help but no one was listening. I felt numb, like my world was drained of any vibrancy and color. In my desperation to feel safe, I self-medicated with drugs and alcohol and joined a gang that I hoped would protect me from more abuse."

He also explained how he came out as a queer man while in ICE detention, and the work he's done to help other detainees.

"I have stood up for my fellow detainees by speaking out about work conditions and safety with Cal-OSHA, the state's occupational health and safety agency," Prasad wrote. "I have fought to protect the rights of people detained by ICE during the COVID-19 pandemic, by advocating for vaccinations for people who are detained by ICE and fighting for an end to transfers of people who served their time in California prisons, to ICE detention."

While in prison, he wrote that he found treatment for his drug and alcohol addiction through Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. He also started therapy.

He explained that returning to Fiji would likely mean going back into the closet because of who he is, or facing discrimination and hate crimes.

To sign the change.org petition for Prasad, click here.

To take other action, such as contacting Newsom's office, click here.

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