Demand Gov. Newsom to #StopICEtransfers and Support Firefighter & Refugee Kao Saelee

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Right before this year’s devastating wildfires in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom and California’s prison system (CDCR), handed Kao Saelee, a formerly incarcerated firefighter and Mien refugee to ICE. Instead of reuniting with his family and fighting the wildfires that have devastated California, Saelee is now detained by ICE, thousands of miles away from his loved ones in Louisiana’s Pine Prairie ICE detention facility where there are at least 65 COVID-19 positive cases.

Sign the petition: Urge Governor Newsom to #StopICEtransfers from CDCR, and for the Governor to tell ICE to release Kao Saelee now!

During this COVID-19 pandemic, California prisons and local jails are not only sites of COVID-19 outbreaks, but continue to act as the main pipeline filling immigration detention centers by turning community members like Saelee who are eligible to be released over to Trump’s deportation machine. Gov. Newsom must act now and halt ICE transfers from state prisons and jails as a concrete way to stop the spread of COVID-19, save lives, and protect public health.

Saelee’s story is not uncommon among Southeast Asian refugees. Saelee is ethnically Mien. The Mien people, an oppressed minority in Laos, bravely fought alongside the United States during the Vietnam War and rescued downed American pilots. After the United States withdrew, the Lao government engaged in a campaign of retribution to wipe out the Mien people. Saelee and his family were forced to flee to a refugee camp in Thailand. Eventually, they were resettled in an impoverished and violent neighborhood in Fresno, California. At 18, Saelee found himself homeless, struggling to survive, and made the poor choice to take part in a robbery and fire a warning shot in the air.

While in prison, Saelee matured and grew up. Over the past several years, wildfires have devastated California burning millions of acres, destroying homes, and costing far too many lives. Incarcerated firefighters have served on the frontlines protecting communities and lives each wildfire season. Saelee courageously served on the frontlines cutting brush surrounded by smoke and flames during some of the worst wildfires in California history.

This summer, Saelee completed his sentence and looked forward to reuniting with his family after 22 years of separation from his loved ones. Saelee youngest sister drove to Pleasant Valley State Prison to pick him up. However, instead of being released, and despite his record of working as an incarcerated firefighter, Gov. Newsom allowed CDCR to transfer Saelee to ICE. Saelee now faces deportation to a country his family fled when he was two years old.

Saelee’s incarceration has already had devastating impacts on his family, and they are eager to welcome him home and make up for lost time. Gov. Newsom and CDCR have no legal obligation to work with ICE, and must cut ties with Trump’s deportation machine. 

Sign the petition today! Urge Governor Newsom to #StopICEtransfers from CDCR, and for the Governor to tell ICE to release Kao Saelee now!