Governor Newsom, Sheriff Bolanos, San Mateo County: The Universe Is Inviting Us to Change

Release Pretrial Detainees During The COVID19 Pandemic Before It's Too Late

Editor's Note:

This is a transcript of a speech given outside Maguire Correctional Facility in Redwood City by freedom fighter Nora Melendez. In 2018, her partner Sergio was held at this jail and transferred to ICE detention in Bakersfield, 250 miles away from his home in San Mateo County. Sergio was separated from Nora and their 3 young children for 8 months.

Good evening everyone. I am Nora Melendez. Thank you for showing your support tonight. 

My highest intention today is to build bridges, to facilitate understanding. To help us see our commonalities, instead of our differences. Your pain is my pain. I’m not free until you are free. Why are we here today? I am here because my family has experienced something traumatic. You are here because you may have as well. Maybe you’re an elected official who can help communities of color heal in some way from their shared trauma. What we have in common is that we are here to learn from each other. To show our strength. To support each other with our actions, not just words. Today, YOU have put your body where your mouth is. Thank you again for being here  - as well as everyone watching online, listening on the radio, watching us on TV. We see you too! It’s wonderful to feel so connected. 

The experience of my family is unique to us, but very typical of many immigrants both past and present. Maybe your father, sister, mother, uncle, friend is at Maguire now or was transferred to ICE. My story may sound familiar to you. Maybe you are today a part of that system that transferred my partner to ICE back in 2018. This story may sound familiar to you, as well. To you I say, I hold no hatred for you. We have all been SUBJECTED to a system that is designed to traumatize everyone at EVERY level of the food chain. 

One Sunday in December of 2018, my partner was brought to Maguire jail and within 24 hours was transferred to ICE. He was not given a chance to see his family, our three children, before being sent to Mesa Verde in Bakersfield. But it wasn’t a comfortable or straight line to Bakersfield. He went from Maguire, to Maple, to Yuba City ICE, back to San Francisco to be processed, then back to Yuba City. From Yuba, he was taken to Mesa Verde only to be told that he would be deported to Mexico. He spent Tuesday on an ICE bus and arrived in San Diego, before someone realized that he’s not Mexican, but from El Salvador. And it was a case of mistaken identity. So back he went to Mesa Verde. 

During this time, he was given little water and little food, no time to rest and no information about what would become of him. He arrived back at Mesa Verde by Wednesday exhausted, confused and sick. He had spent three days at the mercy of ICE agents and their willful neglect and clerical errors. He spent the next month coughing and being given Tylenol for his migraines and seizures. I want to stress here that at no time was my partner given any information within Maguire or at Mesa Verde that would help him and his family navigate this awful situation. He was not given the number to the Rapid Response Network. He was not given the name of a lawyer. He was denied appropriate medical attention. He was forced to share a room with a hundred other people. He was separated from his loved ones by 250 miles. He was denied information. He was denied the hope that he had a fighting chance. He was denied the right to feel human. Instead, he received only labels. He was labeled a criminal, he was labeled dangerous, he was labeled unwanted, he was labeled illegal, he was labeled disposable. As a brother, father, son and as my partner – I affirm that he is valuable. 

He is a man that deserves respect. 

He loves the beach. He loves his children. 

He loves his family and he is great at making friends.

He is strong and he is an entrepreneur. 

He is a being of light, despite all the trauma he has suffered in his life. 

He is a man that has chosen to be better than what he was taught. 

He is better than anyone’s opinion.

His value is immeasurable to many of us, do you agree?

After 8 months of ICE detention, and with the help of Silicon Valley De-Bug, the San Mateo County Coalition for Immigrants Rights, the Rapid Response Network, Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto, and our local community, we were able to get my partner back home in July of 2019. It was an uphill battle for us. I am reminded of that old saying about “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” That is an illusion. It doesn’t work. It’s an illusion because no one can do anything by themselves. We all need help in this life when things get rough. The bootstrap method doesn’t work because it ASSUMES an even playing field and that we all have boots on our feet WITH straps from the START. We know that is not the case for 98% OF US.

Sheriff Bolanos, Governor Gavin Newsom, San Mateo County Board of Supervisors – I am now speaking directly to you. 

You all have a chance to do so much good in this world. You have been entrusted with some power. You have been given the opportunity to analyze the data, meet the people and hear our stories, you can vote one way or that other way. We ask today that you collaborate with us to:

  • Release pretrial detainees and individuals who are at high risk for contracting Covid-19 and it’s health consequences
  • Fix video visits and reinstate in-person visits
  • Improve sanitation protocols and be more transparent in these efforts
  • Implement Cite and Release policies
  • Stop notification and all transfers to ICE

Most importantly, we ask that you search your conscience and that you help heal our communities, instead of doing further harm.

You may have a view of some bigger picture. I only have my family’s story. I have my own personal experience. But as I said before, my family’s experience can be multiplied into the thousands. Which makes your opinion, signature and treatment of immigrants and the incarcerated, an amplified projection of your goodwill. Will you now multiply your goodwill towards the most vulnerable?

It was not just 51 people that were transferred to ICE in 2018 – it was 51 plus the hundreds of hearts they took along with them. Forty-two people have been transferred to ICE this year so far, during this pandemic. Those 42 also had hundreds more family members dragged along with them they can no longer touch. There are hundreds more inside Maguire as we speak. Their children have arrested development too.

Now, during this pandemic. The need to release people from jail and ICE detention centers is even more urgent. There are over 180,000 additional reasons and their families that demand change. Due to the mishandling of the Covid-19 virus since the beginning of the year, which was labeled a fraud, a hoax, a witch-hunt; Covid-19 morphed into a world-wide pandemic. To have a loved one die – due to denial, willful neglect, blatant lies and misinformation is absolutely devastating, and criminal. 

Now, YOU, OUR community leaders have an opportunity to make things right, to stop the needless suffering and death. The criminal INJUSTICE system, and the systemic racism embedded within its hallowed halls; are not meant to help people navigate their problems and come up BETTER for them. We start out from the bottom, and the tides do what they do, they pull us down and away from safe harbors. As a leader, you have been entrusted by your people to change a law, sign a bill, vote yay or vote nay, but CONSIDER that your highest responsibility is to FIRST DO NO HARM. That may sound like a tough call, even impossible sometimes. LET GO of your EGO, forget the agenda, and look at your true purpose, then your choice will be clear.  Sheriff Bolanos; you can do your job differently. Consider that for each person you allow to be transferred to ICE, for every person you label dangerous; that is merely your opinion. It is not informed by reality. Your opinion is based on fear. My partner has never been a dangerous criminal. Consider that perhaps your fear of transparency comes from knowing that you may not be doing the right thing.

Supervisors Slocum, Pine, Canepa and all board members: consider that your political careers should come second to your obligation to build better communities, for everyone. Not just the few. It is also your responsibility to hold those around you accountable. Even if you say you can’t, that does not release you from that responsibility. It is your responsibility to find a way.  

Governor Newsom. You can be different too. You’ve already proven that you are self-aware and capable of change. That is admirable. You can extend the same opportunity to those in jail and those detained with ICE right now. Whatever they may have done, deportation or death are not an appropriate sentence.They have the same potential as you. But we're caught up in a system that sets them up to fail. Can we agree that we are ALL works in progress, that we are not perfect – that with appropriate help, we can make better choices today for the benefit of ourselves and for our future. 

Sheriff Bolanos, Governor Newsom, Board of Supervisors; Instead of shutting jail doors and building border walls, work with us to open windows and build bridges, and safe harbors. Right now, we all have a chance to do things differently. Our status quo has been interrupted by social unrest, by wild fires, a pandemic. Problems that can no longer be ignored. We are being invited by the universe to change, to do things differently and to do them better, than yesterday.

Now is the time to reinvent the wheel; because going in circles as we have done for so long, just isn’t working. 

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