Join the Fight to Bring Carlos Home
In 2017, Carlos Sauceda got a phone call in prison. The California Board of Parole Hearings had just granted him release after serving 22 years. He was due to return home in two weeks.
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent was on the line, warning him that he might not go home; ICE might intercept his release because he was born outside the U.S. His mother had immigrated with him as a young child, and though he had a green card, he was not a U.S. citizen.
“Hearing that I might go home, or I might not, was very painful to hear,” said Carlos. “I’d been incarcerated since I was a 15-year-old teenager. It was like they were playing with my emotions, and with my family’s.”
Carlos had been preparing to return to his family in Los Angeles, where he planned to work as a counselor at a youth center. He had studied for a counseling degree while in prison, hoping to give back to the community where he had once been a lost and traumatized child himself, in search of guidance and protection and suffering from memories of abuse. At 13 he joined a gang, and at 15 he was prosecuted as an adult for a gang-related murder.
“In my mind and heart, I thought I would go back to my family and make amends to my victim and to the community as well,” said Carlos. “Until I got that call from ICE, I felt that all of these positive things were coming together.”
His family remained in denial about the possibility that ICE could block his release. “They didn’t understand,” Carlos recalled. “They said, ‘You paid your debt, you had a green card, you can just go to immigration court. You don’t need to be detained.’ But I told my family not to come pick me up. I had a feeling that I wouldn’t come home.”
He was right. On the day he was supposed to be released, he was shackled and driven to an ICE office in Sacramento, where he says agents pressured him to agree to deportation and give up his right to bring his case before an immigration judge. “You’re never going to get out of detention, you’re never going to win your [immigration] case,” he remembers them saying.
ICE placed him in deportation proceedings based on his criminal conviction. He was transported to the Yuba County Jail in Marysville, Calif., about 40 miles north of Sacramento, where he spent two years in ICE detention, fighting for his right to remain in the U.S.
“I was arrested all over again,” said Carlos. “Except, this time, I was almost 40 years old, and I had already done my time.”
A Sweetheart Deal at the Expense of Human Rights
At the time, Yuba was one of the few remaining California counties to hold a contract with ICE, allowing the agency to detain immigrants in its jail facility in exchange for federal dollars. After the 2017 passage of a state law that prohibited counties from beginning new contracts with ICE, many counties voluntarily ended their preexisting contracts.
Not Yuba. Its contract was so hugely lucrative (by 2020, it amounted to a “guaranteed minimum” of almost $8.7 million per year, as ICE was paying for 150 beds at the rate of $158.13 a day per bed, regardless of whether they were occupied) that it chose to continue its contract at the expense of human rights.
The ACLU has long advocated for the end of immigrant detention—a system of mass incarceration that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people. People in ICE detention are locked up pending hearings in civil immigration cases, which means they may ultimately be found by a court to have the legal right to remain in the U.S. and may not have even been ordered deported. Many people languish in detention for months and years as they await an outcome in their immigration case. Even people who have won their cases may continue to be detained for years, pending appeals.
That’s what happened to Carlos. He won his immigration case, but ICE chose to appeal the judge’s order and keep him detained. By that time, Carlos had suffered severe physical and psychological abuse in immigrant detention. He had seen the people around him suffer, too, deprived of access to recreation, medical care, clean water, and even shoes. He was desperate.
After 25 months in ICE custody, a nurse told him he was at risk of a heart attack because his blood pressure was dangerously high. “I thought, ‘I’m going to die in here.’ I just couldn’t take it no more,” Carlos said. “I couldn’t believe I was still being held in custody even though I won my case. I walked up to an officer and I said, ‘Go ahead and deport me. I’m ready to go.’”
He signed for deportation.
Advocating for Accountability, and a Pathway Home
In 2021, the ACLU of Northern California joined Carlos and a group of immigrants’ rights organizations, known as the Yuba Liberation Coalition, to advocate for the termination of the Yuba-ICE contract. They built on the organizing work that Carlos had already begun, assisting detained people with petitions requesting their release; meeting with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials and federal lawmakers to tell the stories of other detained people; and generating public awareness of the inhumanity and moral bankruptcy of immigrant detention.
On Dec. 9, 2022, DHS announced that it would terminate the Yuba-ICE contract. It officially ended on Feb. 8, 2023, bringing the ACLU and community partners one step closer to their goal of shutting down ICE detention centers.
Although advocacy efforts across the state have made it more difficult for ICE to open new detention contracts in California, prisons and jails continue to cruelly refer people to ICE after they have served their time, as happened in Carlos’ case. If not for the fact that he was born outside of the U.S., Carlos would have been able to return home to his family in Los Angeles, revealing a dual system of justice in California that discriminates against the immigrant community.
ACLU NorCal is now representing Carlos in his fight to return home. Although he won his immigration case and has the legal right to live in the U.S., ICE won’t let him return. Carlos and his wife are now living abroad in a country where they have no relatives, few job prospects, and face many challenges making ends meet.
We are urging Governor Newsom to pardon Carlos for his conviction. A pardon would allow Carlos to return to the U.S., allow him to work in the U.S. to support his wife and family, and protect him from deportation. Community members and organizations, including UCLA’s Center for Immigration Law and Policy, have submitted letters of support urging the governor’s office to pardon Carlos.
“The U.S. always says it’s the land where everyone gets an opportunity, where we believe in second chances and justice for everyone,” Carlos said. “Well, let’s show the world that we give people the opportunity to have a second chance. Because I can’t comprehend that I won, but I still lost.”
Urge Governor Newsom to pardon Carlos so that he can reunite with his family and community.
- Visit the “Contact Us” page on the governor’s website.
- Scroll down to the “By Email” option and select “Clemency-Pardon” from the drop-down menu.
- Submit a message in support of Carlos’ right to return home and contribute to the state and communities that he loves.