“They used our son as bait, just to get the mother to come in,” Washington said.
When San Francisco native and MUNI bus driver Charles Washington married Tracey, his Australian girlfriend in Reno last April, he never imagined that she and her sons would be deported after her 13-year-old bullied another kid at school for 46 cents.
But that’s what will happen Friday, March 5, almost a year after their wedding, unless a miracle happens. And this travesty is happening thanks to Mayor Gavin Newsom’s overreaching juvenile sanctuary policy, a broken federal immigration system, and a couple who tried to do the right thing, but were told they didn’t need to apply for a green card in a hurry, when they called an immigration number for information last year.
‘What more could we have done other than call the number?” Washington asked, noting that once they were told it wasn’t urgent, they began saving up, so they could afford the several thousand dollars a green card for his wife and two kids was going to cost.
But now, thanks to a bullying incident at school, and the city’s overly draconian policy towards immigrant youth, Washington’s wife and her 13-year-old son will be deported to Australia on Friday, and her 5-year-old boy will accompany them, while Washington stays in San Francisco to look after his 12-year old daughter (pictured in a photograph taken at the March 1 press conference at Asian Law Caucus).
“There are no laws that prevent me from going to Australia, but I have joint custody of my daughter from a previous marriage and her mother is not going to authorize the child to move, so I’m hoping for a miracle,” Washington explained.
His wife Tracey, who has been forced to wear a federal electronic monitoring bracelet since February, looked on in silence, flanked by her sons and step-daughter.
Washington, who grew up on Mt. Davidson Terrace, and was formerly in the military, had been driving a MUNI bus for a year and a half, when he woke one morning after he got home from his late-night MUNI shift, to hear the phone ringing with a call from his stepson’s school to say there where problems between him and a sixth grader.
“The school told me it was their policy to call the parents any time the police are going to talk to a child,” Washington said. Twenty minutes later, he and his wife were at the school, talking to an SFPD officer, who said a report had been filed by another parent about the incident and the police now wanted to talk to their kid.
After the interview with the police, Washington thought the worst thing that could happen was that the officer would write a citation to say his son needed to appear at juvenile court. Instead, the police arrested his stepson, putting him in handcuffs and saying that they were going to take him to the Juvenile Justice center.
“I think my son was in shock, as I was, “ Washington said. “What he actually did, and what the actual charges are, they are universes apart. Back when I was in school, at worst, a bully was sent home for the day, creating problems for them at home, when they explain to their parents why they’ve been sent home.”
Instead, Washington’s stepson was charged with felony robbery, extortion and assault after the parents of a sixth-grader at his school called the police, but his case has yet to be adjudicated by a juvenile justice, --and a bench warrant will be issued if he fails to attend a March 8 hearing in San Francisco—3 days after he and his mother are deported.
According to Washington, (pictured here (left) with Angela Chan, (right) staff attorney for the Asian Law Caucus) no weapons, no injuries and no witnesses were involved in his stepson’s incident. “And it was strictly one kids’ words against the other,” Washington said.
So, why did the police decide to refer his stepson to the federal immigration authorities?
“I think the officer picked up on the fact that he had an accent,” Washington said. “And when asked where he was born, my stepson said, ‘Australia.’ He is 13 years old. He doesn’t know if he is undocumented or not. As far as he is concerned, he was born in Australia, moved to San Francisco, and this is his family, his new family.”
Washington said his stepson was held for a week at Juvenile Hall for a week, during which the atmosphere at home became tense and stressful.
“We did not understand why this was happening,” Washington said. “Kids on my bus get on and do way worse things than he actually did, and the police usually make their presence known, but there is no worry about going to Juvenile Hall.”
But the worst was yet to come.
After his stepson had been at Juvenile Hall for about a week, Washington got a call from his stepson’s probation officer, saying that he was going to have to contact federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“He said he had to contact ICE, that he was just doing his job, that it’s what’s required under his job title,” Washington said.
Under a new policy that Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered in the summer of 2008, the city’s juvenile probation officers are required to contact the feds when a juvenile is booked on suspected felony charges. This means, the probation officers are required to contact ICE before immigrant kids have even had a hearing before a juvenile judge to determine if they are in fact, guilty, as charged.
‘They didn’t say, ‘he might be deported,’” Washington said.” I was just told that there might be a ‘ICE hold put on him,’ but at this point I was still not understanding the importance of ICE.”
Once ICE picked up his stepson and transferred him to ICE’s facility on Sansome Street, Washington got a call from his stepson, who said he was OK.
“At this point, we were aware of the immigration issue, so I told my wife to stay at home and I went down there with a lawyer, and I was able to meet with my son,” Washington recalled.
But when he got back home, he received a call from his lawyer who notified him that if his wife was willing to go in and put on an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet, the feds would release their son.
“So, I drove my wife to Sansome Street, and that’s when we were informed that she was being handed her deportation orders, along with our 13-year-old son,” he said
His wife has been wearing the electronic monitoring ankle bracelet ever since.
“She wore pants today because it makes her feel ashamed, and she cries nightly over the fact that she feels like she’s being treated like an animal,” Washington said. “She says, ‘I feel like they think I’m a murderer, but I’m not, I haven’t done anything wrong.’”
According to Washington, his wife arrived in the country along with her kids on a 90-day visa-waiver, and the couple got married about 45 days into that visa.
“We had known each other for seven years, and we looked into getting a green card, two days after we were married, and we were told, not once, but twice, that if you enter on a visa-waiver, there is no deadline to apply for your green card. We were misinformed.”
But while Washington notes that the office that he spoke to was a contractor for the federal government and had its information wrong, he still can’t get over the fact that the federal government would treat him and his wife this way, using their son as bait.
‘This is all shocking to me,” Washington said. “I never dreamed America would treat not only someone from America, but someone not from America, this way. All we want is for our application to be reviewed based upon the facts. We are being told it’s too late.”
Equally upsetting for Washington was the experience of seeing his stepson used as bait.
‘They used our son as bait, just to get the mother to come in,” he said. “ Our son wasn’t there for more than 4 or 5 hours ,and we had no clue that the deportation papers would be served until we walked in. They hadn’t even put the monitoring bracelet on her. She could easily have run, but we still don’t want to break the law, regardless of the outcome. Even though we did something wrong according to ICE, it wasn’t intentionally. If we had been given the correct information, we wouldn’t be here. Yes, we couldn’t afford the money at that time, but we’d have made sacrifices.”
Washington said he is reaching out to the media in a last ditch effort to save his family.
“I don’t know any other way but to network, maybe someone might know someone else who can save my family,” he said. ‘My stepson, he’s just a nerd, he’s not a violent person, he’s not aggressive at all, he’s just being a boy, and he really hasn’t had a father figure in his life, until he moved here.”
Angela Chan, staff attorney for the Asian Law Caucus, which has been helping the Washington family try to get their green cards, said that if the son had never been reported to ICE, then the family likely would have received green cards.
“But now they are refusing to consider it, because of the ICE referral,” Chan said.
Chan also explained that if the boy was able to appear before a juvenile justice, he’d likely get informal probation for a first-time minor offense.
“He only had a hearing, but the juvenile proceedings were halted, when he got handed off to ICE,” Chan said. “The District Attorney had filed charges, but they had not yet been adjudicated, and a judge had not yet reduced the charges.”
Jane Kim, President of the San Francisco United School District said the School Board unanimously supported the amendment to Newsom’s policy that Sup. David Campos introduced last year and which a supermajority of the Board of Supervisors supports.
“We have seen how changes in the Juvenile Probation Department as of August 2008 have been used as a blunt tool to separate family members, regardless of whether the juvenile is convicted of the charges, and regardless of the family’s circumstances. And we don’t believe that the Campos amendment violates the US Constitution.”
“Newsom’s policy has put a lot of burden on our staff,’ Kim said, explaining how schools are now worried about calling the police, lest students end up being deported because the police referred them to ICE, based merely on accusations,
“For those worried about public safety, I think this type of situation encourages under reporting,” Kim said.
Washington for his worries that his wife and her kids will be homeless in Australia.
‘My wife sold her furniture and gave up her apartment in Melbourne to come here, and her mother and father have a one-bedroom apartment, so there is no space for her and two kids,” he said
He also worries that if they ever manage to come back, his stepson will have a warrant out for his arrests:
‘Today we were notified that if my stepson doesn’t show up for his March 8 pre-hearing (in the juvenile justice system where the DA’s office is pressing charges), we’ll have to worry about a warrant for his arrest, which will make it even more difficult for him to move back” Washington said.
If a person is deported, they are barred from reentering the country for 3-10 years.
The Washingtons’ federal deportation will occur the day after the Board of Supervisors holds a hearing into why the city’s Juvenile Probation Department has failed to implement the city’s new policy towards immigrant youth: under the new policy, which the Board passed in 2009, a teenager like Tracey Washington’s son would get his day in court before being referred to federal immigration.
Since July 2008, when Newsom first began requiring probation officers to report all suspected undocumented youth for deportation right after arrest - before the youth receives an attorney or a hearing on the alleged charges, over 160 children have been reported to ICE without regard to their innocence or how minor the offense.
In November 2009, a community-based based campaign resulted in the passage of a new policy that restores due process to immigrant youth. The new policy gives youth an opportunity to have a hearing and requires a finding that the youth committed a felony before any referral to ICE. If implemented, the new policy would boost public safety for all residents because it would put an end to the Mayor's policy, which has caused immigrant residents to be afraid to have contact with city employees.
"Until Mayor Newsom restores due process to all youth in San Francisco, many more hard-working families like the Washingtons will be torn apart," said Chan.
On Thursday, March 4, the Board’s' Rules Committee will hold a 10.30 am hearing at City Hall regarding Juvenile Probation Department's refusal to implement the Campos amendment which would restore due process to youth.