Daniel Maher, a 41-year-old man with a felony conviction from 20 years ago, has run the recycling program at Berkeley’s Ecology Center for the last decade, until he was picked up over two months ago during a U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement sweep of Northern California residents of Chinese descent, according to his attorney.
Maher’s colleagues from the Ecology Center and members of the community gathered outside ICE’s San Francisco offices this morning to protest his detention and demand his release.
Maher’s attorney, Anoop Prasad, of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice Asian Law Caucus, said Maher remains in custody despite no extradition agreement between the United States and China.
Prasad said Maher came from the Macau region of China to the United States as a toddler, and became a permanent U.S. resident in 1977.
Maher grew up in the U.S. and when he was 20, he was arrested and convicted of felonies related to an armed robbery. He served seven years in prison followed by over a year in ICE custody, Prasad said.
In 2001, Maher sued the federal government for holding him past the six-month detainment period. He was then released from custody.
When he got out, he began working as a recycling sorter in Hayward and from there was hired as a manager at Berkley’s Ecology Center, where he was later promoted to director of recycling.
Martin Bourque, the executive director of the Ecology Center, and Debbie Beyea, the organization’s deputy director, have worked with Maher for years and said they are hopeful that he will not be deported. They’re saving Maher’s job for him.
Bourque, Beyea and a group of Ecology Center employees wore a black and white “FreeDaniel” T-shirt today to show their support.
Beyea said she has worked with Maher for seven years and described him as a great coworker, who is generous, kind, and tends to be the first to arrive at work and the last to leave.
“We really miss him,” Beyea said. “It’s just such a waste to have him cooped up in prison, all of his talents and resources sitting idle.”
Prasad said today that Maher’s detention was part of a larger federal sweep, in which federal officials picked up residents of Chinese descent, who they have deemed to be safety threats.
Prasad said the Chinese government has not indicated that they will allow Maher to be extradited to China, and show no sign of doing so.
When extradition of an individual is not reasonable or likely to be in the foreseeable future, Prasad said, U.S. law requires that the individual be released from custody.
“This is an illegal detention,” Beyea said today, explaining that the Chinese government has asked the U.S. government to send back certain wanted fugitives, but the U.S. has not done so.
China and the U.S. do not have an extradition treaty.
The sweep by the federal government in June included individuals who the U.S. government has previously wanted to extradite to China.
A statement from ICE reports that, “Recently, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations officials in San Francisco were advised it may now be possible for the agency to obtain a travel document for Mr. Maher. In light of that, ICE officers took Mr. Maher into custody June 5.”
ICE officials say they are pursuing his removal and that as a convicted aggravated felon, Maher remains an enforcement priority based on his criminal history.
Prasad said that he and his colleagues at the Asian Law Caucus have filed a lawsuit against ICE on grounds that they are holding Maher illegally.
A pardon could potentially be handed down from California Gov. Jerry Brown, Prasad said.
Prasad said Maher has given back to his community and that among the documents submitted to a judge urging for his release was a prosecutorial discretion request with a letter of support from the Mayor of Berkeley.
Daniel’s brother, Anthony Maher, said in a statement, “Our phone calls to ICE were ignored and our requests have been denied. But he must be released immediately. We will not stop fighting until he is home with us.”
According to Prasad, during the first week of June, federal officials picked up individuals of Chinese descent in Northern California as well as in the Los Angeles and Seattle areas.
Just from speaking with other attorneys, Prasad estimates a couple dozen individuals were detained during the sweep.
Over 3,100 people have signed a petition urging ICE officials to release Maher. The petition can be viewed here: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/berkeley-worker-faces-deportation-to-country-he-does-not-know.
Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News