Queer detainee granted bond by immigration judge

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Monday December 5, 2022
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A supporter took this photo of Salesh "Sal" Prasad, a queer bi man, after he was released from ICE detention Tuesday. Prasad was granted bond by an immigration judge following a December 5 hearing in Van Nuys, California. Photo: Courtesy Salesh Prasad supporter<br>
A supporter took this photo of Salesh "Sal" Prasad, a queer bi man, after he was released from ICE detention Tuesday. Prasad was granted bond by an immigration judge following a December 5 hearing in Van Nuys, California. Photo: Courtesy Salesh Prasad supporter

Salesh Prasad, a queer and bi man in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention, was granted bond by an immigration judge December 5 after a 90-minute hearing at an immigration court in Van Nuys, California.

Judge Kevin Riley granted bond in the amount of $5,000 and said that he did not hear "clear and convincing evidence" that Prasad was a flight risk or posed a risk to the community, as Trent Fucci, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, had argued. The court hearing was broadcast virtually though there were no images.

Prasad, 51, has been in ICE custody for 473 days, his attorney, San Francisco Deputy Public Defender Maddie Boyd, told the court.

As the Bay Area Reporter has previously reported, Prasad, who told the court that he identifies as a queer bi man, came to the U.S. from Fiji as a lawful permanent resident when he was 6 years old. 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 B.A.R. in July.

He was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 20 years to life, he told the court.

Prasad was found eligible for release from prison due to his rehabilitation and remorse, he told the judge. 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.

During the hearing, Prasad talked about his life in state prison and in ICE detention. He repeatedly expressed his remorse for his actions back in 1994 and said he has changed by educating himself and getting into treatment for his drug and alcohol problems. He said that he was sexually abused by a man when he was about 11, which led him to join a gang for protection, and to use drugs and alcohol.

"I didn't want him to take me and rape me again," Prasad said.

In a phone interview December 6, Prasad told the B.A.R. that it "was an awesome feeling" to be able to leave ICE detention.

"When he started talking I just closed my eyes," Prasad said, referring to the judge. "I got really emotional, thinking about my mom and grateful to God."

Prasad also offered thanks to his many supporters.

"Thank you so much with all my heart and soul," he said. "I really appreciate the love and support."

In the same call, Boyd said that she expected Prasad to be released Tuesday. He would first go to Bakersfield and then hopefully be transported to the Bay Area. Boyd said that Prasad is under the San Francisco parole unit now.

During the hearing, Prasad and Boyd both told Riley about an extensive plan he has once bond has been raised. It was unclear immediately following the hearing if the government would require Prasad to wear an ankle monitor or have regular check-ins with parole officers.

Hien Nguyen, a program manager for the Asian Prisoner Support Committee in Oakland, testified that her organization will work with Prasad helping him find housing, go to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, court hearings, and other matters as required. She described the services that would be offered as a "high touch approach," meaning that throughout the reentry process, Prasad would not be left behind.

Fucci, the attorney for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, raised objections that mainly revolved around Prasad being a flight risk and that he had not demonstrated rehabilitation outside of a correctional facility. But the judge countered that, stating the Board of Parole Hearings conducted extensive work on Prasad's case before it recommended him for parole.

"The state parole evidence, I think, is evidence in your favor," Riley said to Prasad. "They went through a thorough risk assessment."

Boyd outlined that process, which included a forensic psychological exam and risk assessment.

She also pointed to the extensive community support Prasad has. There were 81 people on the Zoom call listening to the hearing and five of his supporters in the courtroom, she said. Family members submitted letters, she added, and she pointed out that the mission of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is to "facilitate rehabilitation."

Prasad received commendations from prison staff and was an AA chairman in state prison, she said.

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."

In response to a question from Boyd, Prasad told the court that he does have an application in to Governor Gavin Newsom for a pardon.

As the B.A.R. has reported, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco Democratic Party have both passed resolutions urging Newsom to pardon Prasad. A coalition of human rights and faith-based groups has also put out a call to action urging the governor to issue a pardon.

While in prison, Prasad earned his GED and took vocational classes in welding, electronics, and roofing. "I was able to partake in mental health services for my childhood trauma and other forms of coping skills therapy," he told the court.

The judge did note that both sides have until January 4 to file an appeal. It was not known if the government would do so.

Updated, 12/6/22: This article has been updated with comments from Salesh Prasad.

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