Groups issue call to action for detained LGBTQ community member Salesh Prasad

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Thursday October 6, 2022
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Several organizations have issued a call to action on behalf of Salesh "Sal" Prasad, who is in ICE detention and faces deportation to Fiji. Photo: Courtesy Salesh Prasad
Several organizations have issued a call to action on behalf of Salesh "Sal" Prasad, who is in ICE detention and faces deportation to Fiji. Photo: Courtesy Salesh Prasad

Several faith-based and human rights organizations have issued a call to action on behalf of Salesh "Sal" Prasad, an LGBTQ community member who's in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody and faces deportation to Fiji.

Prasad, 51, is a beloved nephew, uncle, brother, and artist from Modesto, California, the organizations stated in the online call to action. He 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.

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.

According to the call to action, on May 13 an immigration judge denied his convention against torture, or CAT, claim and ordered his deportation to Fiji. An appeal and a pardon application have been submitted.

Organizations that are co-hosting the call to action include 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. Representatives from the groups did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Reverend Deborah Lee, executive director of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, did make a statement in July, after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution urging Governor Gavin 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."

The groups are asking people to call or email Newsom, sign a petition, submit a letter of support for Prasad's pardon, and share his story on social media. The organizations have provided templates for letters, and a sample script for calling the governor's office at the link below.

The San Francisco Public Defender's office is representing Prasad, according to a news release from the office about the Board of Supervisors' resolution.

"I'm honored to represent Sal, a beloved brother, uncle, nephew, and artist who has dedicated himself to rehabilitation and helping others," stated Maddie Boyd, Prasad's attorney in the San Francisco Public Defender's office.

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.

"Deportation would force me into a conservative society where queerness is not accepted and LGBTQ+ people are persecuted and harmed, and to a country where the police have been known to torture civilians," Prasad wrote.

A petition currently has almost 600 signatures. To sign it, click here.

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

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