Reframing negative immigrant narratives

It’s no secret that Donald Trump and other extremists are fanning the flames of intense hatred against immigrants. When anti-immigrant forces get away with spreading a stereotype — the “bad” or “dangerous” immigrant — it can be easily exploited to strip away the humanity of millions of people who contribute to this country and call it home.

But what’s lost in the debate is the humanity of people who are fodder for this stereotype in the first place: those who do have serious or even violent convictions.

Immigrants like the two of us.

With San Francisco increasingly a focal point for anti-immigrant scapegoating, our local leaders should take a stand for love, compassion and transformation.

In fact, later this month, San Francisco’s supervisors have a key opportunity to do just that, with “Due Process for All” legislation that will uphold a clear separation between local law enforcement and a deeply unjust deportation system.

But Sheriff Vicki Hennessy has proposed some new exceptions to these protections, and there has been talk about immigrant “career criminals.”

To truly build safe and healthy communities, we have to look beyond buzzwords and understand the humanity of people who come into contact with the criminal justice system.

We believe in redemption, not deportation.

As teenagers, both of us made big mistakes, received convictions for violent felonies and served years in prison.

Eddy was arrested at 16, tried as an adult for kidnapping and robbery, and served more than 20 years in California prisons and jails. Meanwhile, Daniel served five years in prison for kidnapping and robbery.

Since then, both of us have made the conscious choice to take responsibility for our actions, rehabilitate ourselves and help others. This doesn’t diminish nor change the harm we caused. But with every action we do now, we are paying it forward.

Daniel is the recycling manager at Berkeley’s Ecology Center, where he has worked for the past 10 years. He’s also a certified instructor for “Roots of Success” a program that trains at-risk youth for jobs in the environmental sector.

Eddy has also dedicated his life to serving local youth and preventing violence. He serves on several citywide commissions and boards, including the San Francisco Reentry Council, to help others who are reintegrating into society. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned him.

We are both passionately committed to building a better world and helping young people avoid the kinds of mistakes we made. But to Fox News, we may forever be “immigrant felons.” Even President Barack Obama, despite taking some very positive steps on criminal justice reform, has announced he’ll target “felons, not families” for deportation. In fact, both faced deportation and separation from our families — a risk that still hangs over Daniel and his family.

But here in San Francisco, here in California, we must do better.

Does it make our communities safer to punish over and over again people who have paid their debts to society?

The truth is, it’s not us versus them. We must reframe from the “good” immigrants versus the “bad” immigrants narrative because we are all in this together. We need culturally competent solutions that allow people who have made mistakes to make amends and give back to their communities. We must destroy the migration-to-school-to-prison-and-deportation pipeline that paralyzes the people of color and immigrant communities.

To be sure, many wonder how the tragic shooting at Pier 14 in San Francsico could have been prevented. Solutions that get to the root of the tragic chain of events — like the law passed by The City to prevent the theft of guns from parked cars — will move us forward. Letting politicians exploit and distort tragedy to stir up support for mass deportations will take us backward.

At the end of the day, the best antidote to the Trump effect is to truly recognize the full humanity of each and every person. San Francisco must lead the way.

Daniel Maher is the recycling program director at the Ecology Center in Berkeley. Eddy Zheng is a nationally recognized leader on prison reform and youth violence prevention.

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