A symposium held at San Quentin State Prison discussed how restorative justice should shape U.S. immigration policy.
“The first step is our country taking accountability—a lot of the reasons why people are fleeing violence in their countries is because of what this country has done,” said guest speaker Nayeon Kim, a paralegal who works on immigration issues for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of San Francisco. “We need to take care of these people because we caused it.”
Dwight Krizman, an incarcerated Restorative Justice (RJ) facilitator, described restorative justice as a process that takes into consideration the needs of all parties. It requires people who have harmed someone to take accountability. RJ also considers the underlying reasons why the person did the harm and seeks to heal them and all parties hurt by their actions for the betterment of the whole community, instead of focusing on punishment, which often just does more damage.
“The thing that’s powerful about restorative justice is that it sees the human first,” Kim said. “I loved to see a justice system where justice is decided by the people in the community who are proximate to the pain.”
The audience heard from Kim, fellow guest speaker and Mexican immigrant Enrique Yarce Martinez, and several incarcerated men who face immigration issues.
Martinez opened with a description of the fear he lives in each day as an immigrant. In 1998 his parents both had visas that didn’t include him when he was three years old, so they smuggled him into the United States in the trunk of a car.
Martinez addressed the racism involved with immigration.
“The narrative is always Mexicans are jumping up over the border,” Martinez said. “If a Russian gives birth in the United States, it’s called birth tourism, but it’s an anchor baby when Mexicans do it.”
Martinez also fears the system won’t change as long as people profit off deportation.
“The way this country benefits from undocumented people is disgusting,” Martinez said. “There’s a lot of dehumanization once people are put in second-class status. Private prisons have a quota in order to get money from the state; it’s the same with detention centers. This country incentives deportation.”
Martinez is now 23 years old. The only thing keeping him from being deported right now is a plastic card that allows him to stay under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). However, DACA is not a path to citizenship, and his card, which cost $500, expires in November. Renewal of his status is in jeopardy because he was arrested during a 2017 protest while helping a friend get medical attention. His friend was injured by a White supremacist.
“The way this country benefits from undocumented people is disgusting”
“I can’t fight for what is right [without risk of deportation] and I hate it,” Martinez said.
Kim discussed the difficulties immigrants face getting into the country both legally and illegally. She said that while working in Texas on immigration issues for a year, only one person, a torture case, received asylum due to the difficulties of proving the need for the status.
“The American dream is more like a myth in practice for those who can’t buy it,” Kim said. “The immigration system is stacked against you from the moment you arrive. The right way is to go to a port of entry and present themselves, but our government turns people away or gives them ankle monitors.
“People who climb the fence and weren’t apprehended are vulnerable to arrest. If you are poor, like most dream seekers, it’s really hard to find counsel.”
Kim suggests that the community should have a say in who gets to stay in America.
For incarcerated facilitator Darnell “Moe” Washington, seeing fellow incarcerated friends who came from other countries being deported really hurts.
“There’s a lot of guys right here who have changed their lives and can be productive citizens, but they’re sending them back,” Washington, in tears, said from the podium. “We have people that support us; no matter what crime we committed, they welcome us back into the community; why can’t we do the same for immigrants?”
Three men incarcerated at San Quentin discussed their immigration struggles.
Martin Walters cried as he described how his case led to his mother and aunt being deported.
Eusebio Gonzalez, who was found suitable for parole on May 2, will be deported back to Mexico. Now 33, he’s lived in the United States since he was 15 years old.
Gonzalez took a life while driving drunk and served 18 years.
“These years I lived in prison have not been easy because of the heavy weight of the pain I caused,” Gonzalez said. “I’m happy that I’m going home, but I’m sad my 13-year-old is staying behind. I accept my deportation because this is the ultimate outcome of my wrong choices.”
RJ facilitator Mike Webb isn’t incarcerated anymore. He announced at the symposium that he would parole on Aug. 7, after serving 29½ years in prison.
The way I came in isn’t the way I’m going out,” Webb said. “Going out to a new world I know nothing about but I’m willing to accept the challenge.”