Editorial: Newsom should pardon Salesh Prasad

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday November 16, 2022
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Advocates are pushing Governor Gavin Newsom to pardon Salesh Prasad, above, who is in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. Photo: Courtesy Salesh Prasad
Advocates are pushing Governor Gavin Newsom to pardon Salesh Prasad, above, who is in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. Photo: Courtesy Salesh Prasad

Governor Gavin Newsom should immediately issue a pardon for Salesh Prasad, a queer man who's been in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention for many months. Prasad, 51, who has served his time for killing another man decades ago when he was 22, has expressed remorse for that incident, and has gone on to help others while he was incarcerated. He was found eligible for parole in 2021 but that August, instead of being released into the community, he was directly transferred from state prison to ICE custody at its Golden State Annex facility in Kern County.

If Prasad is deported, he will return to Fiji, a country he left over 44 years ago when he came to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident. An appeal and pardon application has been submitted to Newsom's office, according to a call for action issued in October by several faith-based and human rights organizations.

Prasad has broad support for a pardon. Most recently, the San Francisco Democratic Party passed a resolution urging Newsom to pardon Prasad. That was preceded by similar resolutions from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the Stanislaus County Democratic Party.

One of the reasons Prasad has garnered such wide support is because he has turned his life around, even as he remains in custody. He came out as queer while in ICE detention, he wrote in a guest opinion piece for the Bay Area Reporter in July. He has also helped his fellow 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." In fact, his own mother died of COVID while he was in detention and ICE denied him the opportunity to be released — even temporarily — to attend her funeral.

While he was in state prison, he found treatment for his drug and alcohol addiction through Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. He started therapy. All of this progress is at risk of becoming undone should he be deported. He's also afraid he would not survive the homophobia in Fiji.

"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.

Gay former state Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), who also served as a San Francisco supervisor, is one of those advocating for a pardon for Prasad. "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. after the San Francisco Democratic Party passed its resolution.

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."

Newsom has issued many pardons during his tenure. In 2020, he posthumously pardoned gay Black civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, whose 1953 arrest in Pasadena, California on vagrancy charges led to jail time and inclusion on the sex offender registry. Earlier this year, he pardoned Sara Kruzan, who was 16 when she killed George Gilbert Howard in a Riverside motel room. She was 17 when she was sentenced to die in prison for the 1994 murder of the man she said had sexually abused her and trafficked her for sex starting when she was 13 years old, the Associated Press reported. And two weeks ago, Newsom posthumously pardoned Laura Miner, who provided reproductive health services in California from 1934-1948 and was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison for the felony crimes of abortion and conspiracy to commit abortion, according to a release from the governor's office. That action came right before the November 8 election, where Californians overwhelmingly voted in favor of Proposition 1, which will enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution. Newsom also convincingly won a second term in that election, meaning he has some political capital. He should use some of it to right some of these wrongs that are inflicted upon people in ICE custody.

In the Prasad case, Newsom has a chance to stand up to ICE and its strong-arm tactic. Instead of being transferred to ICE custody, Prasad should have been released on parole for which he was found eligible.

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