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This November, California voters have an opportunity to reform California’s 18-year-old “three-strikes” law through voting in support of Proposition 36. Our three strikes law, which is the toughest in the country, allows courts to sentence individuals to 25 years to life in prison if an individual is found to have committed a third felony – no matter how minor – if they have two prior serious or violent criminal convictions.
Prop 36 would alter a heavily criticized provision in the three strikes law that has produced unreasonable outcomes, and resulted in unnecessary costs to the state. Under this initiative, individuals whose third conviction is a non-violent, non-serious offense would not qualify for a third strike, with some exceptions. The exceptions are that Prop 36 would not allow anyone with a prior conviction for rape, murder, child molestation or other egregious crimes to appeal their life terms. This measure applies retroactively, meaning that those currently serving three strikes law terms can file a motion in court to reconsider their sentences if they qualify.
Inconsistencies in Sentencing
Because the current three strikes law does not require a serious or violent conviction for the third strike, there have been widely publicized cases of individuals serving 25 years to life sentences that are disproportionate to the crime committed. For instance, Shane Taylor in Tulare County is serving 25 years to life in prison for possessing a small amount of methamphetamine, which qualified as a third strike because he had two previous burglary convictions. There is also the well known case of Jerry Dewayne Williams who was sentenced to 25 years, soon after the three strikes law was implemented, for stealing a slice of extra large pepperoni pizza from a group of children in Redondo Beach.
Public Safety Impact and Cost Savings
Individuals whose third strike was a nonviolent offense pose a very low recidivism rate. As explained by Mike Romano, a Stanford University law professor, to the San Francisco Chronicle, statistics show that only 4 percent of individuals serving life sentences for a nonviolent, third strike offense qualify as high risk for committing a violent crime, compared with 20 percent of the total prison population.
Prop 36 also will reduce our overcrowded prison population and thereby result in significant savings to the state. Under this bill, an estimated 1 in 3, or 3,000 of the 8,873 prisoners, serving 25-years-to-life terms as of June 2012, can qualify for resentencing hearings. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that Proposition 36 could result in a savings of between $70 million to $90 million a year due to the decreased prison costs.
Shift from Overreliance on Prisons
For the past three decades, if California voters are given a choice between funneling more people into our prison system versus less, the majority often check the box for more. However, what we have come to learn the hard way is that prisons do not solve our societal problems of crime, poverty, addiction, trauma, mental illness, and unequal access to education and jobs. This may explain why for the first time in decades, polls show that a growing majority of voters support Prop 36.
As prison abolitionist Angela Davis has explained, prisons do not disappear our problems. Rather, they drain our resources and energies away from education and social programs in the pursuit of a false promise of a quick fix. It’s time to take a step away from our overreliance on prisons and toward the more difficult, yet rewarding task, of addressing our societal problems head on through crafting solutions that address the root causes.
Originally published in Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area (AABA) Newsletter, Sept/Oct 2012 Edition
Why voting YES on Measure B’s district elections is good for everyone.
By Hyeon-Ju Rho, Executive Director
In a county as large and diverse as San Mateo, many voices are unheard in the current at-large system, and it is time to change that by voting YES on Measure B.
San Mateo County is one of the most diverse counties in the nation: fifty-five percent of San Mateo residents are people of color; its residents are rich, poor, and middle class; and from the Filipino enclave in Daly City to the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park and the seaside businesses of Half Moon Bay, it is home to forty distinctive cities and communities. Passing Measure B will convert elections to a system based on districts, which will allow representatives to better reflect the rich diversity of the county.
A district system will also help ensure that representatives are responsive to local needs. A Board of Supervisors elected by districts will work for you because your representatives will reside in your district and are in a better position to understand the problems that exist in your community, before they get out of control. For example, if you live in San Bruno and are concerned about preventing another pipeline rupture like the one that occurred in 2010, or if you live in Palo Alto or Menlo Park and are worried about the impact of Silicon Valley businesses on your neighborhood, your Supervisor is more likely to relate to your concerns because they live in your community.
San Mateo is the only county of the 58 counties in California that elects their County Supervisors by an at-large system in which every voter in the county can vote for each of the five seats on the Board of Supervisors. This is in comparison to every other county that uses a district system, meaning each voter can vote for one Supervisor who resides in their district and represents that specific district on the Board. One of the most obvious consequences of the at-large systemis the lack of diverse representation on the Board. Although Asians and Latinos each comprise about 25% of the population in the county, only one Latino and no Asian has occupied a seat on the Board of Supervisors since at least 1995. Those opposing Measure B argue that “we’re better because we’re different.” However, where the county lacks equal representation for all residents, it can never be better unless we make those necessary improvements.
Furthermore, district elections will unify and empower San Mateo residents because each Supervisor will be accountable to the people living in his or her own district, and not to political or economic interests. In comparison to an at-large system, a district system reduces the cost needed to run a successful campaign, which is prohibitive for most people who are unable fund their campaign with personal loans or loans from wealthy donors. District elections will encourage more qualified candidates to enter the race. By leveling the candidate playing field for all San Mateo residents, a district system will encourage greater participation and increase voter turnout.
Under the current at-large system, too many voices in the community have gone unheard. Changing a system of government should generally be done to improve representation of, and access to, the political process. Measure B will do just that by providing equal and fair political representation for all its residents and encouraging more responsiveness and accountability. It is time for San Mateo to move forward with the rest of the state and make a change for district elections.
“Did you register to vote?” a female student greeted me with a big smile as I walked through the center of Sproul Hall on campus.
“No,” I quickly responded as I smiled back. “Would you like to register?” she said. “It takes only about several minutes. I can help you,“ she insisted. “Sorry, I’m late to class,” I half-lied.
She probably thought that I was lazy, apathetic or ignorant. But that’s the farthest from the truth. I wish I could tell her that I wanted to vote ever since I turned 18. And, I wish I could have told her the reason I cannot vote – because I am undocumented.
Ever since I moved to this country from South Korea at the age of 11, I grew up just like many other American students. I attended local public schools, learned English, joined sports teams, and was involved in many different student organizations.
I eventually made my way to UC Berkeley after transferring from Laney College. In college, I studied political science and became increasingly involved in student government – first as the student president at Laney, and later as a student senator at Cal.
In school, there were days when I spent endless hours at the library, studying, researching, and learning about politics by reading a variety of magazines, online articles, and newspapers. I have political discussions with my friends and instructors in class, as well as in student organization meetings, and even during lunches and dinners. Sometimes I have had intense debates during discussions, but I have always appreciated these moments because it helped me develop a broader understanding of political system.
I have even applied the political knowledge that I learned in school to the real world, and took direct action to make changes.
For example, when I was an Associated Students of University of California (ASUC) Senator, I incorporated my knowledge and skills that I learned from school to help manage and balance the ASUC’s $1.7 million budget, advocate for diverse issues related to healthcare, affordable education, and academic services along with 19 other elected student Senators. As a Senator, I had the privileged opportunity to vote and exercise my right on campus to make my voice heard. It was truly an honor.
Though I am assimilated to American culture, our society does not allow me to have a voice in the political system. Outside of the university, I am restricted from running for any higher-level political office, with some exceptions such as commissions, the school board and a few others.
Even after I graduate from the top public university with a degree in political science, I cannot participate in the voting process. I am just one person, but there are approximately 2.1 million DREAM Act eligible students who have earned or are pursuing a college degree in the U.S. but cannot exercise the right to vote. In addition, another 10 million undocumented people are barred from voting.
Some may argue that we do not deserve to vote because we are undocumented. This may sound logically reasonable, but it goes far beyond obtaining a U.S. citizenship. Whether documented or undocumented, there were times when African Americans, women, and other underrepresented communities did not have the right to vote.
Even today, many people are having difficult time to vote because of restricted laws to purposely prevent them to have the right to vote. For example, Tennessee voter ID law would restrict people from participating in voting process because significant proportions of underrepresented communities do not possess government-issued photo identification, which means minorities and low-income people could be further disenfranchised by this law. Clearly our current voting process is flawed. Thus, policy makers and elected officials should encourage as many people in this country to participate in the voting process as they can, instead of punishing them by creating discriminatory laws against underrepresented communities.
The November presidential election is just around the corner. Though I am unable to vote, I encourage others to vote in this critical election. Voting is a basic right, a civic duty, and a responsibility as citizens in this country – and we should not take it for granted.
You should vote because there are millions of undocumented immigrants like me who want to vote but unable to do so because of their immigration status.
You should vote because people fought, and died for, the right to vote in this country.
You should vote because there are many countries where people are still fighting and sacrificing their lives to have the right to vote.
You should vote because your voice matters. If you do not vote, interest groups and lobbyists can take advantage and influence policymaking process to benefit for their own interests.
You should vote because you can hold elected officials accountable and responsible representatives as they were elected to do.
Your vote matters, your vote counts, your vote can change a person’s life.
Immigration is one of the most important issues in the presidential election this year. Both candidates, Barrack Obama and Mitt Romney, have different approaches and visions to solve our broken immigration system. The question then becomes, which candidate is a better choice to fix our broken immigration system? The answer is quite simple. In the context of the immigration issue, neither President Obama nor Governor Romney is the best choice to lead our nation. Here’s why.
During the 2008 presidential election campaign, Democratic Party candidate Obama promised to introduce and pass comprehensive immigration reform by the end of his first term in office. However, as president, he did not introduce such a bill. He also promised to pass different legislation such as the DREAM Act. Four years later, he still has not delivered his promises.
Even worse, President Obama has deported about 1.4 million undocumented immigrants, tearing apart families and hurting innocent people. This increase in deportations was a result of notorious programs like “Secure Communities,” which requires the sharing of fingerprints at the point of booking by local or state law enforcement with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Though the “Secure Communities” program was designed to target the most dangerous criminals to be removed from this country, about 70% of the deported are non-criminals or individuals who committed only minor crimes. Furthermore, some individual police officers abuse their powers through racial profiling by falsely arresting or overcharging undocumented immigrants, and sometimes U.S. citizens, who would then be deported.
To be fair, President Obama made an announcement on June 15, 2012, to stop deportation and provide work permits to a select group of DREAMers who meet requirements under a new immigration policy, known as Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals (DACA). Though this policy would benefit thousands of young DREAMers, President Obama’s actions were largely motivated by political incentives. President Obama could have introduced DACA in his first term of presidency, but he waited until the election year. That’s not the type of leadership that we want from the president.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, lacks clarity on immigration issues. As Romney is famously known for flip-flopping on policy issues, he surely flip-flops on immigration policy as well. First, Romney said he would veto the DREAM Act during the primary election. But once he got nominated as a Republican candidate, he said he would support a partial component of the DREAM Act, which allows certain individuals to pathway to legalizations if they serve in the military. This is just one of many examples from Romney’s ambiguous stance on immigration policy issues. Sadly, this would only make him an untrustworthy candidate.
Furthermore, Romney embraces the nation’s toughest immigration law, Arizona’s SB1070. SB1070 is a controversial law because it gives tremendous power and authority to state police officers to ask about immigration status of any persons if they have a reasonable suspicion that the individual is an undocumented immigrant. In other words, state police officers are trained to be Immigration Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents to detain and deport immigrants. Similar to the “Secure Communities” program, SB1070 results in racial profiling and discrimination against certain targeted individual groups. Someone who advocates for this policy would make our immigration system move backward, not forward.
Worst of all, Romney would address “illegal” immigration problem by self-deportation. During a debate in the primaries, he stated, “…The answer is self deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here.” Simply by looking at his stance on immigration, it is quite clear that he does not understand immigration issues nor does his statement exhibit empathy for the experiences of hard-working immigrants.
Clearly both candidates are not the best choice to fix our broken immigration system. But either way, we have to choose a president this upcoming November. Though electing the “right” president is important, the most important part of the democratic process is active engagement from the people. That’s why we need to continue to organize, mobilize, and take collective actions to make our voices heard, and send a clear message that we want fair and humane comprehensive immigration reform. With our collective voice and effort as a movement, no matter who gets elected, we can work with the President to solve our immigration system.
Pledges to Break ICE’s Hold on California and Beyond
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
September 30, 2012
Angela Chan, Senior Staff Attorney
SAN FRANCISCO - The Asian Law Caucus expresses deep disappointment in Governor Brown’s veto of the TRUST Act (AB 1081). Angela Chan, senior staff attorney, issues the following statement:
“After passing the legislature with strong support, the TRUST Act was posed to make California the first state in the country to adopt a policy that disentangled local police from burdensome immigration enforcement. Rather than take bold leadership to protect Californians and save our limited local resources, Governor Brown has squandered an opportunity to restore trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement.
Almost 80,000 California residents have been deported thus far as a result of the runaway train known as ICE’s Secure Communities Program (S-Comm). We hold Governor Brown responsible for each and every domestic violence victim, food vendor, and contributing member of California deported because of his failure to do the right thing. We know that thousands more will be deported because his veto. This injustice will spur us to ramp up our efforts to break ICE’s hold on our local law enforcement.
We would like to thank the over 100 civil rights and community-based organizations, courageous police chiefs and sheriffs, 22 members of the California Congressional delegation, and inspiring faith leaders who made it possible for the bill to get to the Governor Brown’s desk. And we pledge to continue to work with you to win reforms that keep immigrant families together.”
The TRUST Act was authored by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, and co-sponsored by the Asian Law Caucus, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the California Immigrant Policy Center, and the ACLU of California who worked with a coalition of community organizations from around the state.
Congressional leaders Endorse Bill that Would Set California Apart from Arizona-Style Enforcement
Today, 22 members of the California Democratic Congressional Delegation, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-SF) and Zoe Lofgren (D – San Jose), Ranking Member of the House’s immigration subcommittee, announced their support for the TRUST Act (AB 1081) in a letter to Governor Brown asking him to sign the bill into law.
The letter states that “the measure is designed to enhance public safety and protect civil liberties, while also promoting fiscal responsibility at the state and local level” and also strongly affirms: “There should be no doubt that California has the legal authority to enact the TRUST Act and set sensible limits on the manner in which local law enforcement officials respond to immigration detainers.”
Law enforcement support for the TRUST Act has also continued to grow, with Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto and East Palo Alto Police Chief Ronald Davis recently joining the Sheriff of Santa Clara County and the Chiefs of San Francisco, Oakland, National City, and Palo Alto in supporting the bill.
The bill’s author, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-SF) commented: “I thank Congresswoman Pelosi and the other California representatives for their support at this critical time for the TRUST Act. Having them stand with us is a powerful statement that we are headed in the right direction, and that our opponents’ claims are based on a misunderstanding of federal law. I’m glad our members of Congress agree it’s crucial for California to have a statewide response to these burdensome requests.”
Meanwhile, the Chicago City Council approved a policy similar to the TRUST Act yesterday, supported by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel :http://blogs.suntimes.com/politics/2012/09/fspielmansuntimescom_undocumented_immigrants_who_witness.html
The Congressional letter also comes shortly after The American Immigration Lawyers’ Association (AILA) published a document offering thorough legal analysis that served as the basis for their support of the bill. A copy of the AILA letter can be found here: http://www.aila.org/content/default.aspx?docid=41292
“There is a strong consensus emerging in favor of this legislation,” added Chris Newman, Legal Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. He continued, “The few Sheriffs who have opposed the TRUST Act frankly prove the need for the bill by demonstrating their fundamental misunderstanding about the law and their obstinate unwillingness to join the rest of the state in an ernest policy discussion about how to reform the broken status quo.”
List of signers on today’s letter: