Deported for Graffiti?

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.


  1. Raj,
    I love your compassionate heart, I really do. I just don’t think that you get what makes some of your columns hard to swallow. A couple of things: 

    We don’t know, because you haven’t disclosed it yet, exactly what he wrote on walls, trains etc. What he wrote or drew is significant because it could be considered Hate Speech, terrorist etc.

    Secondly and most importantly, breaking the law repeatedly is why Jerry is being deported. You can’t reduce his actions as insignificant because it was ‘just graffiti,’ or because his girl’s parents didn’t like him and reported him for being at their home. Was there a restraining order, or was she under aged? Give us some facts please!

    Finally, if you think Jerry’s treatment in the US is bad, how do you think foreign countries like Mexico, Russia, Iran, India, Italy etc. would treat him? Do you really expect punishment of criminals to be done Paris Hilton style?  Come on Raj let’s get real. “If people can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”

  2. He broke the law and did his time for a small crime. No one should not be punished twice for the same offense.

    That said, you have to be stupid to run from the police. Furthermore, if you’ve worked hard to get to this country, you have to be even dumber to jeopardize your stay here.

    In the end, I think it’s a desperate attempt to remove someone/anyone from this country. They had him available, so he’s chosen for deportation. It’s cheaper than rounding up people, which takes time and effort.

  3. >> Surely, there is a more egregious criminal activity that deserves his expulsion from the United States

    I’d like to think of his expulsion from the country not as punishment for him as much as a reward for the rest of us. You know—who live within the boundaries, don’t run from authority, don’t resist arrest, and value other people’s property.

  4. oh kathleen,

    yo inhumanity and callousness not only is unamerican, it’s unchristian. But who am i to assume you believe in da good christ’s teachings? my bad, my sista.

    as da mayor, i hasta say dat dis ain’t da way we treats our legal residents. whilst we sometimes—in our anger over crime, including graffiti (which is da defacing of someone’s property without permission and consent of the property’s owner)—yearn to institute punishment (just or unjust) of da magnitude of our more popular fascist characters of the past—complete wit standing-room-only ovens and that pleasant vanilla-smelling humanicide mist—as a free nation built to resist unjust governance and unjust laws(remember da British?), we understand that NUANCE between and betwixt da laws is a reflection—NAY, a requirement—of a mature, reasoning society. As we know from da works of such great post-modernist linguistic and anthropological scholars, language, per se, has its limitations, both temporally and spacially, and so it relies on the good judgement of those assigned to interpret da law at dat time and place to choose interpretation wit wisdom and humility o’er da great power dey has n stuff.

    i espect dis kinda poor treatment in singapore and mainland china, but in dis country where we to dis day rely on legal immigrants (and illegal immigrants more than ever) to build our now-vacant homes and condos, cook in our now-emptier restaurants, mow our now-browner lawns, and pick our now-tainted veggies and fruits, it is a contradiction and an insult to our principles as a nation to allow such bad judgement to stand.

    Now, i ain’t happy bout seein’ my buildins all tagged up by dese punk kids—and i sometimes wisht i could givum a lashin wit a cat-o-nine tails, but to uproot a perfectly legal citizen and threaten deportation for writin on a wall is beyond draconian, it is equivalent to da historical treatment of jews and romas (gysies fo you common folk) that we all now agree was a bad thing, and worse of all, it is just bad national karma.

    And, we all know we workin’ for karma ever day when we give or don’t give change to me, when we wish ill on da fool who honk at us trying to pick up a cigarette butt while crossing da street, or when we fail to show da compassion dat da good lord JESUS preach in da good book.

    Kathleen: i urge ya to take a deep breath, imagine a loved one you have who done hit da sauce too much—ever famly gots a drunk and a mischief maker—and imagine dat person havin’ to pack up and leave yo family forever cuz a da weakness he has fo da sauce and cuz of da fool tings he done as a young punk.

    now i know yous eager to send a message to immigrants—legal or otherwise—dat in dis country we respect da law. but you do dis through edification and enforced citizenship classes. particularly when dey is young or when dey is about to have famlies. and most importantly—you put yo money where yo mouth is and offer opportunity to advance in society through good public schools that teach citizenship and da rules of our great constitution.

    fo every jerry der be a tomas who willin to give it a shot and ain’t gettin da support to make da best of america and contribute da most dey can to dis country.

    i’ma pray fo you kathleen dat yo heart soften up and yo mind mature a bit.

    peacea wit extra cheese holda anchovies,

    da mayor

  5. Raj & 1-3,

    You are totally insane. The reason are country is so messed up is there are so many who think like you. For the record, my mother lawfully immigrated to this country and then attained her US citizenship. She worked hard while I was in school, and obeyed the law.

    It is not a right for a non-citizen to live in this country, it is a privilege.  A non-citizen, who is residing here lawfully, should realize there’s only two things they need to do: Obey the law and get a job. It’s not much to ask. It’s what I do and every good citizen does.  I am annoyed enough with citizen’s who cannot follow these two simple guidelines let alone immigrants.

    The fact that you can be deported for not obeying the law should be good motivation for following it. I bet Jerry now wishes he obeyed the law. This also puts other non-citizens on notice: If you do not obey the laws of the United States, you will be deported.

  6. “Jerry came to this country legally from Columbia…”

    More information, please. Did he have a 30-day visa? Did he come here on vacation? You say that he is a “legalized” citizen. What does that mean?

  7. #5: So when does the trial period end? If a person goes through proper avenues to immigrate here, why are they still treated as outsiders? Granted, I expect a person so committed to respect the laws and citizens of this country so this man’s actions are quite confusing.

    Still, though, why should immigrants live their lives hanging by a thread while our home-grown murderers and rapists are welcomely housed and fed? Can’t we send those assholes somewhere instead? I’d gladly trade the real scum of society for a tagger or two. We can’t place all our problems into one simple solution like shipping off this guy.

  8. #4- Da Mayor,
    I’m asking for a recall until you learn the language! wink Just kidding!

    I disagree. Anyone who has been allowed into this country does not deserve to be let off the hook for repeatedly and blatantly disregarding the law. I worked in the Victim Offender Program for 5 years and I can tell you that the owners of these properties, or VTA would not agree with your dismissive attitude on this issue either.  Every time someone destroys property, the cost is passed on to us in one way or another. Higher rider fees, increased costs for goods are in part due to vandalism. 

    Also, Raj has a history of leaving serious relevant information out of his columns. I have checked with a friend of mine who is an attorney and he said that graffiti is NOT classified as a felony.

    Further, if you look back at his column, Raj states, “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.” Now, that makes sense to me and is reason for deportation.

    So Da Mayor, soften your heart for me, and respect the laws of our country. We law abiding citizens would appreciate it ya. wink

  9. Nam Turk 5,

    There is no trial period. Just because you went through proper channels to immigrate here doesn’t mean you have the right to stay here after you broke the law multiple times. If you want to stay with your family in this country and are not a citizen, obey the law. Seems simple to me.

    Raj picked about the worst example to defend his point on deportation. You don’t get sent to San Quentin because you made a few little mistakes, nor for a misdemeanor graffiti charge. This guy is bad news, and people who knew him called the police to have him arrested. Based upon the information in the article Jerry is: a convicted felon, who was released on parole and violated his parole, and resisted the authorities.  He is not the poster child for your cause.

    Raj & supporters, I don’t really understand your arguments on this subject. I would like to know why you’re defending this guy. Is he your friend? Do you advocate immigrants vandalizing property or fleeing parole? Find me a legal resident immigrant who has obeyed the law, is hard working and getting deported then you’ll have my empathy.

  10. Graffiti should not be taken lightly, I personally find it very offensive.  Remember when Ron Gonzales was mayor of San Jose back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s?  Mayor Gonzales increased funding for graffiti abatement throughout San Jose, and it became a very good program.

  11. I dont think Graffiti is a issue here, id feel horrible if jerry was getting deported for just the sake of putting your name on the wall, sound like theres other issues than the taggings he did. Im also a proud graffiti artist in this city who also pays taxes, wich by the way every citizen in san jose must pay taxes that go to graffiti clean up no matter what (EVEN IF THERE ISNT ANY GRAFFITI TO CLEAN!)now aint that sum crap tax payers. anyways i dont think people understand wat graffiti means to us artist, im not talking about the ugly taggs u see on a pole, im taking about the beautiful pieces and murals that express the youths inner thoughts and feelings, yes its still vandalizim but some people dont understand that graffiti is like a drug you just cant stop it once its in you its with you forever.
    so if hes like me, and is getting deported for “only” graffiti, than deporting someone for an addiction is wrong mabe they should make some kind of drung classes for graffiti, but if that immigrant detention is true then that should be a goodenuff cure for him,

    my blessings go out to jerry and his family, if god is with him he will be in the right place, god bless all

    for the love of the art!

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