When Linda came to our office two Sundays ago, she was supposed to be escorted by her 25-year-old son Jerry. Jerry has just finished doing five months in prison on a parole violation. He was drunk and asleep at his girlfriend’s family house and her family (who doesn’t like him because he is a parolee) called the cops. When the police came, Jerry ran because he was on parole, and he ended up with a couple of misdemeanors—he was charged with trespassing and resisting arrest. He was regretful and embarrassed, but they said it was a parole violation, so he had to serve time at San Quentin.
We see these types of episodes a lot: people doing time over their inability to see that their relationship is causing them harm, even bringing tangles with the law, but they still keep going back to each other. There needs to be a special court or hospital or something for those folks, like Drug Court. A Girlfriend/Boyfriend Drama Court would dramatically reduce our incarceration rate.
We thought Jerry’s case was going to one of those—time served, lesson hopefully learned, move on. But Linda came alone that Sunday to the office. She said that when she went to San Quentin to pick up Jerry, he was never on the bus. Guards kept telling her he was on the list, but he never appeared. She came back to San Jose and received a call from Jerry the next day. He was in San Francisco, in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center. He was picked up in prison by ICE and is facing deportation proceedings. Jerry came to this country legally from Columbia, has been a permanent resident since 1997, and going to school and working ever since.
It turns out that nap at his girlfriend’s house may lead to his removal from this country. Of course, the justification for detention and deportation by Homeland Security is not the recent misdemeanor; it is his underlying felony offense, the one that originally sent him to prison. Surely, there is a more egregious criminal activity that deserves his expulsion from the United States, particularly since he was never undocumented. And there is: graffiti. Not assault, rape, or robbery, but graffiti, writing on a wall with spray paint. They have programs in schools now that teach graffiti to kids, but Jerry is a Homeland Security threat for it.
Jerry did a year in prison for graffiti charges back in 2002, and then was sent back to prison for it again a couple of years later. The letter from Homeland Security confirms that these vandalism charges are the reason for deportation. As far as I know, Jerry may be the first person in US history to be removed for graffiti.
Jerry is being held at a detention center in Arizona. He is waiting for a hearing and is planning on challenging the deportation order. He told his mother over the phone that the detention center is worse than prison, and now understands why more people do not challenge their deportation; they get broken down mentally and physically by the detention center.
Linda is doing everything she can to get representation for her son, and the lawyers she speaks with have no easy answers. It is an unusual case, and there are some uncertainties of how to classify Jerry’s crime of graffiti in terms of criteria that Homeland Security uses for deportation. Can graffiti be interpreted as an aggravated felony—a violent act? Can “property destruction” be considered an act of violence? Is graffiti a violation of moral turpitude?
Having spoken on the phone with Jerry when he was in prison, before he was moved to immigration detention, he was, even then, regretting his past deeds. His compulsion to spray paint his name on walls and trains has cost him literally years of his life behind bars. He was anxious to but his past behind him. And during his parole hearing, waiting in the lobby with his mother, I could see that she has given years of her life as well. But Jerry and his mother have already done their time. Deportation of a legalized resident for graffiti is over-reaching, draconian, and a waste of federal government time and money.