CCalifornia officials have transferred a firefighter in custody who nearly died on the front line of the fire this fall to the hands of American immigrants. He is now threatened with deportation, and his family fled the country thirty years ago.
Bounchan Keola, 39, has only two weeks left in prison when he was crushed by a tree during a battle with the Zog fire in northern California on October 2 and then airlifted to the hospital. A few days later, California prison officials notified the Federal Office of Immigration that he was about to be released. State records showed that the state had arranged for him to be transferred directly to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice).
Keola can now be deported to Laos, which is the country he left when he was four years old.
“I just want to go home and give my mom and dad a hug,”
Keola Governor Gavin Newsom (Gavin Newsom) said that due to California’s controversial policy, certain foreign-born prisoners were handed over to Ice after serving their sentences. Therefore, Keola grew up as a permanent resident in the United States and also California’s latest policy facing controversy. Parliamentarians across the country, including congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), called on Newsom to terminate the transfer in September in response to another fireman who was sent to the Ice prison And the story of the Laotian refugee Kao Saelee.
However, the Democratic Governor does not seem to waver.
Scramble:’I feel free for the first time’
Keola was born in 1981 and has no memory of Laos. His family are descendants of ethnic minority Khmu and fled the country after the Vietnam War. Keola was eating scraps of memories after a meal in a refugee camp in Thailand, and was terrified on the plane to the United States.
In San Leandro, California, where the family settled for the first time, Cora was afraid of going to school and could not speak English. “I am afraid of people with blue eyes and blond hair. I have never seen these features.”
He recalled that he went to school without eating lunch, went to school in well-meaning clothes, and was mercilessly bullied because he was Asian and poor. When he met another young Qom in nearby Richmond, he finally found the community and protection, but this caused him to start drinking in middle school, and soon he fell into gang violence. He said that when he was 16 years old, riding a car with friends, he and a group of people eventually shot at a man running towards them, fearing that it was a member of a rival gang. Two were shot and one died.
Keola was prosecuted as an adult, and his mother begged him to accept a plea agreement, fearing that if he goes to trial, he will be locked down for life. Therefore, he agreed to accept second-degree attempted murder and other serious charges, and accepted 28 years of prosecution. He said that he has spent decades trying to correct his fault: “I not only hurt the victim and his family – I also hurt my family and the entire community,” he said. “I can’t take back what I did. But I can make corrections, live a different life, and do my best to help the next person.”
This year, Keola had the first opportunity to repay money outside the prison – as a worker on the front line of the California fire, thousands of incarcerated people in the state were fighting the fire, earning $3 per day and 1 per hour during the fire Dollar.
He knew that given the meager wages, people compared work with “slavery labor”, but he was surprised at the opportunity to go out and reach into the river. This was his first contact with running water since he was a teenager. “No fence, no barbed wire, no tower, no one with a gun waiting for you. I feel free for the first time in 22 years.”
When passers-by thanked and expressed their gratitude, he stayed there. “They treat us like firefighters, not prisoners. From then on, I knew this was my intention.”
After years of criticism, prison firefighters are prohibited from obtaining a fire license once they are released. Governor Newsom signed a legislation in September that allows certain people to clear their criminal records so they can join the fire after prison team. Newsom took photos of the signing orders on land scorched by a fire, praising the “prisoners who stood on the front lines fighting the historical fires”.
The legislation means that Keola is about to end his sentence and will be released as soon as possible because of his fire service. He can enjoy a place in a real career.
Injured, then “betrayed”
On October 2, Keola and his staff cleaned the brushes to prevent the fire from spreading in the Zog fire that spread rapidly near Reading. He recalled that the plane above was pouring water, making it difficult for them to see. Suddenly, he heard the crew yelling: “Tree!” Just before his head was hit and knocked down: “I’m looking at the stars. I can’t move. I’m lying down on the ground.”
Keola must be shipped out by air. The rope suspending him was trapped by a tree, and he began to spin quickly: “I was thinking, I am going to die. I began to pray. I thought, God wants me to go. This is my time. I closed it. eye.”
He survived. There are very few local news reports about this incident, including two anonymous firefighters who were injured.
Keola’s release date is only two weeks. He thought he might stay in the hospital forever, but he was later sent back to prison and suggested that he be followed up for medical treatment the day before his release. His medical record listed “traumatic neck injury” and Keola wore a neck brace.
He said that in prison, he was not treated or monitored by doctors. Instead, he was isolated and quarantined: “I feel punished for being hurt. I feel sad and betrayed.” (His record says he was in the “quarantine area”, indicating that he may have been due to the Covid program Isolated.) He takes ibuprofen every day and tries to sleep on his stomach due to pain.
Meanwhile, his family lives in Pinole, about 22 miles northeast of San Francisco, and are planning to release him. His sister, 36-year-old Thongsouk Keola (Thongsouk Keola), said she took a one-week vacation and planned to live in a hotel near the prison so that she could be outside on the morning of October 16 Wait for him.
But two days ago, the agent of Ice told Keola that their agency would pick him up instead. He recalled that his stomach started to cough.
He called his sister and told her not to come again.
“It’s too unfair. He has served for so many years,” Tonsuk said. “We know he is a different person now. We are here, ready and willing to accept him and take all responsibilities.”
How Newsom intervened
The California Governor’s Office has not yet responded to repeated inquiries by the Guardian about the state government’s policy to transfer prisoners to Glacier. Newsom told reporters at a press conference that it was “appropriate” and that “history has been done.”
Despite the fact that the state has no legal obligation to cooperate with Ice, and California has a “protected area” law to limit cooperation with immigration authorities and protect residents from deportation. However, prison officials said they complied with Ice’s “detainees,” which means requirements for detainees deemed eligible for deportation by the federal government.
This includes residents who hold long-term green cards and face deportation due to convictions. The staff lawyers of the Asian Legal Caucus (ALC) Anoop Prasad and Keola’s lawyers said that if the state had not issued an alert to Ice, it was unlikely that federal agents knew he would leave.
According to ALC, California has moved more than 500 people from prison to ice this year. Prasad and other activists have long urged Newsom to end the policy completely – and issued pardons to Keola and Saelee, which means they No more threats of deportation.
Prasad said: “Governor Newsom pointed out that pardons are a way to correct past injustices in the criminal system.” He pointed out that there is no reason to believe that this will change under the new management of President-elect Biden-who has Said that he will continue to expel people for criminal convictions. “It is not enough to reverse what Donald Trump has done. Governor Newsom must carefully study the policies he has adopted.”
Moreover, the Lao country does not recognize the citizenship of a Khmu refugee like Keola, so it is not clear whether his country of birth will accept him. Despite this, he still faces a deportation hearing, and Prasad and his family worry that Ice will still find a way to deport him.
The governor spokesperson did not respond to repeated inquiries. Newsom has issued 63 pardons during his tenure, including ten pardons issued this week to immigrants who would otherwise face deportation. Keola and Saelee are not on his list.
A spokesperson for the State Department of Corrections said that the agency “has not determined the immigration status of prisoners” while Bing “decided whether to detain or detain prisoners”. She said that Keola was “released” on October 16. The department declined to comment on Keola’s treatment.
Bing did not respond to queries.
In Ice, Keola’s neck pain intermittently. The doctor there told him that he appeared to have kidney problems-he should not take ibuprofen, He said.
He dreams of returning to his family. “I just want to help my mother clean, wash the dishes, wash the clothes, and even water her garden. Play with my nephew and niece. I just want to serve them there.”
If he is to be deported, Keola has one requirement: Bing must let him leave at least briefly so that he has the opportunity to live with his elderly parents outside the prison wall.