Questioning Federal Secure Communities

State of New York | Executive Chamber
Andrew M. Cuomo | Governor
For Immediate Release: June 1, 2011


Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that New York State will suspend participation in the federal Secure Communities Program to review the mounting evidence that the program is not meeting its stated goal and has serious consequences for witnesses, victims of crime and law enforcement.

The goal as stated by the federal government was to deport serious felons, and, based on evidence to date, it appears the program in New York is failing in this regard and is actually undermining law enforcement. Because of similar concerns, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is investigating the program.

“There are concerns about the implementation of the program as well as its impact on families, immigrant communities and law enforcement in New York,” Governor Cuomo said. “As a result, New York is suspending its participation in the program.”

In a letter to DHS, Governor Cuomo’s administration stated that information produced thus far has called into question – at both the federal and state levels – the implementation and intended effect of the Secure Communities program.

Governor Cuomo’s office has also received complaints stating that the goals of the program were not being met. The questions raised are further aggravated by inconsistent statements by DHS and a failure to disclose basic information about the program.

Congressman Jose E. Serrano said, “Governor Cuomo has taken a brave and necessary step in suspending New York State’s participation in the flawed ‘Secure Communities’ program, and he deserves great praise. He is firmly in line with our state’s pro-immigrant tradition and on behalf of the immigrants and their friends in our community, I would like to thank him. Having New York State pull back from this unfair and aggressive program should be a wake-up call to the Department of Homeland Security. It is time to end this program and I am glad my home state will no longer take part.”

Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez said, “I thank Governor Cuomo for showing the leadership and foresight to suspend this misguided program, which does not reflect New York’s long history as a welcoming home for newly arrived immigrants. The Secure Communities initiative does not make our nation safer, but inhibits cooperation with law enforcement and violates immigrants’ due process rights.”

Derek P. Champagne, Franklin County District Attorney and President of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York (DAASNY), said, “By suspending the state’s participation in this program until a comprehensive review is complete, the Governor is sending a strong message that the law enforcement tools we utilize must be clearly communicated, evenly applied and effective. We will continue to use the effective tools that have been in place for many years to ensure that we are identifying and preventing any risk to public safety.”

Janet DiFiore, Westchester County District Attorney, said, “I support Governor Cuomo’s decision to take New York State out of the Secure Communities Program in light of reports of the unintended consequences by its implementation. I remain confident that law enforcement throughout the state presently has sufficient tools at its disposal to continue to safeguard and protect all New Yorkers.”

State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Chair of the Latino Caucus of the Senate, said, “Governor Cuomo’s decision to end the so-called Secure Communities program in New York will restore rights and justice to countless immigrants across the state. We must enact policies and reforms that bolster our diverse population, not penalize it by instilling a sense of fear of wrongful deportation in our neighborhoods.”

State Senator Gustavo Rivera, Vice Chair of the Latino Caucus of the Senate, said, “I applaud Governor Cuomo for having the courage to put an end to this program’s existence in New York. The Secure Communities program has frightened victims and witnesses of crime from coming forward. We need to make our neighborhoods safe places for our families and not take part in a problematic and contradictory program that hinders our safety.”

Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, Chair of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, said, “The Secure Communities program has done the opposite of what it was supposed to do, and Governor Cuomo is right in removing our state from the program. While we continue to work to find ways to make it safer for victims and witnesses of crime to come forward and be a part of the process to save our communities, we must not let our state be part of an experiment that puts innocent people at risk.”

Thomas H. Mungeer, President of the New York State Police Benevolent Association, said, “We support Governor Cuomo’s action today in suspending Secure Communities until the numerous questions, including a federal Inspector General’s investigation, can be resolved. Police rely upon a partnership with the communities that they serve to ensure the public safety of us all. The questions that have surrounded the implementation of Secure Communities drives a wedge between law enforcement and the people they are sworn to protect. We are confident that the procedures we currently use and the strong relationships we currently have with federal, state and local authorities will ensure that we can keep our communities safe while also maintaining our relationship of trust.”

John Poklemba, Counsel to the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, said, “Governor Cuomo has made the right decision to take New York State out of the controversial Secure Communities program. This program unfortunately has had a negative impact on our crime-fighting efforts. Law enforcement must have tools and resources that are both effective and fair.”

Jack Mahar, Sheriff of Rensselaer County and President of the New York State Sheriffs Association, said, “Every day, law enforcement officers put their lives on the line to rid our neighborhoods of crime, and we do it with the cooperation of the law-abiding public. This program was intended to make communities safer and stronger, but many people question whether this program has really accomplished its objectives. Governor Cuomo is right to remove our state from this program until all concerns are addressed.”

Clinton County Sheriff David Favro said, “Governor Cuomo’s decision to freeze the Secure Communities program until the questions that have been raised about its implementation can be settled, is a wise one. While we are sworn to keep our communities safe, that cannot come at the price of their trust. Our strong current partnerships with federal law enforcement and long-standing operations in this state will ensure that we continue to communicate effectively to identify undocumented immigrants in our county jails and take appropriate actions.”

Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph Gerace said, “We support Governor Cuomo’s action today in suspending Secure Communities until the numerous questions, including a federal Inspector General’s investigation, can be resolved. Sheriff departments rely upon a partnership with the communities that they serve to ensure public safety for us all. The questions that have surrounded the implementation of Secure Communities jeopardizes that relationship. We are confident that the procedures we currently use and the strong relationship we currently have with federal, state and local authorities will ensure that we can keep our communities safe while also maintaining our relationship of trust.”

Steven Krokoff, Chief of the Albany Police Department said, “In light of the confusion surrounding this program and the pending Inspector General’s review, the Governor’s decision to freeze this program until the federal review is complete is appropriate. The procedures we currently use will ensure the safety of neighborhoods across the state while at the same time encouraging individuals in all communities to come forward to report crimes.”

Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said, “We applaud Governor Cuomo for taking the bold step of removing New York State from the Secure Communities initiative, which, despite its name, has become a sore subject for those who work day and night to make our neighborhoods safer. We need to ensure that vulnerable populations are protected, and the decision to remove our state from this program is a positive move for all New Yorkers.”

Chung-Wha Hong, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said, “For centuries, families have gone to great lengths to come to this great nation, and we owe it to ourselves and our neighbors to make sure the law is on their side. Unfortunately, the Secure Communities program has failed to provide protections to many individuals. Governor Cuomo’s decision to remove New York from the program is a right one, and we look forward to working with him to make our state safe for all residents.”

A copy of the letter sent to DHS can be found at:


Additional news available at
New York State | Executive Chamber |

Report finds prosecutorial misconduct in Bay Area

Prosecutorial misconduct taints the entire judicial system. Even though our system says all defendants are “PRESUMED INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY” defendant’s are already looked at as if they have done something wrong just because they have been arrested. Judges, defense attorneys, society and prosecutors themselves should hold prosecutors to a high standard when prosecuting people. In a recent jury trial of mine, the prosecutor failed to comply with discovery and turn over information on a witness which is well settled statutory and United States Supreme Court law. This should never be acceptable.
By Tracey Kaplan

Posted: 04/18/2011 06:50:09 AM PDT

Bay Area prosecutors committed misconduct last  year in 18 cases serious enough to attract notice  from state and federal courts, according to a report  released this month.

In four of those cases — including two in Santa Clara County — the courts either set aside the  sentence or conviction, barred evidence or declared a mistrial, according to the report by the Northern California Innocence Project. Such misconduct, including concealing evidence favorable to a defendant, can result in costly retrials or lengthy legal battles even if the conviction ultimately is upheld.

“Our research shows prosecutorial misconduct continues throughout the state in a broad range of prosecutions ranging from burglary to rape to murder,” said Maurice Possley, co-author of the study.

But critics, including some prosecutors named in the study, claim the Innocence Project fails to carefully research the cases in its haste to skewer deputy district attorneys.

“Like Holocaust deniers and people who believe we never went to the moon, they have an agenda, and no fact is ever going to get in their way,” said San Mateo County prosecutor Alfred Giannini, who the study describes as a “multiple offender.”

Giannini was cited last year for misconduct in a murder trial that led to the conviction being set aside, according to the study. It was the third case in which courts have found his conduct has led to a reversal or mistrial since 1999. He disputes either the courts’ findings in all three cases or the
Innocence Project’s summary of those opinions. Possley says the aim of the Innocence Project, based  at Santa Clara University’s law school, is not to  lambaste prosecutors but to spur reform. If  anything, he said, the study undercounts the actual  problem because it does not include trial-level

findings of misconduct that are not reflected in appellate court rulings and would have to be researched by searching every case file in every courthouse in the state.

Misconduct ranges from small technical errors to presenting false evidence, engaging in improper examination, making false and prejudicial arguments, violating defendants’ Fifth Amendment right to silence and discriminating against minorities in jury selection.

Statewide, the study shows courts found prosecutors committed misconduct last year in 102 cases, 26 of which required courts to overturn the conviction or otherwise modify the outcome. In the other 76 cases, the courts upheld the convictions, finding that the misconduct didn’t alter the fundamental fairness of the trial. The Innocence Project disputes the “harmless error” findings in some of the cases, noting some mistakes were constitutional violations, not just technical errors.

The number of misconduct findings increased last year — up from 61 statewide in 2009, 11 of which involved Bay Area cases. In three of those local 2009 cases, the misconduct was deemed “harmful” and the sentences or convictions modified. But it’s unclear whether the increase last year is due to
more brazen misconduct or better monitoring by the courts.

Obama’s moral obligation to detainees regardless of immigration status

This man was held here in San Diego at a CCA facility (Corrections Corporation of America), a private corporation that has multi-million dollar contract with the Federal Government yearly to house detained immigrants. This is a short op-ed that certainly points out the blatant disregard for human life however it doesn’t show the heinous treatment of this man.  As a federal judge aptly said this goes “beyond cruel and unusual punishment.”

Sadly, there are still not enough changes happening quickly enough and detainees are still dying.


Obama’s moral obligation to detainees regardless of immigration status

A Southern California case in which federal officials agreed to pay $1.95 million to settle a wrongful death suit points up the need for the Obama administration to make authorities responsible for their charges’ basic health needs, no matter their immigration status.

April 8, 2011

Francisco Castaneda spent nearly a year locked up in Southern California immigration detention centers while fighting his deportation case. During that time, the Salvadoran national pleaded with the medical staff to treat painful lesions on his penis. He filed grievances about the quality of care and even sought outside help. Department of Homeland Security health officials responded by giving him Ibuprofen and denying his request for a biopsy because it was considered “an elective procedure.” He was released in 2007, and within days was diagnosed with penile cancer.

If Castaneda had been an inmate assigned to a “supermax” prison instead of an immigrant held in a detention center, he would have been likely to receive treatment quickly. Instead, he died a year after he was released, at age 36. On Thursday, federal officials agreed to pay $1.95 million to settle a wrongful death suit brought by Castaneda’s family. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement admitted in court that its negligence led to his death.

Late last year, in response to this and other cases, the Obama administration began overhauling the system to ensure that all detainees in federal custody — including asylum seekers, refugees and legal permanent residents, as well as those being deported for illegal entry — receive basic medical care. It may seem obvious that detainees are entitled to such care, as are convicted criminals in jails and prisons across the country. But consider some of the stories of the 118 immigrants who have died in federal custody since 2003. A transgender Mexican immigrant with AIDS, for instance, was denied medications for weeks. An elderly Haitian preacher seeking asylum in the United States had his blood pressure medication confiscated. A tailor from Guinea who became incoherent after a fall in his cell was placed in solitary confinement instead of being given medical attention.

The Obama administration eliminated the bureaucracy that had required prior approval from a Washington office for any outside care. Now, onsite doctors and nurses have the power to order biopsies, ultrasounds or dental exams without waiting weeks or months.

It’s a positive step, but not enough given past failures. The Department of Homeland Security should make all existing detention system rules legally enforceable regulations. In the case of medical treatment, such a change would hold immigration officials accountable for providing basic care, including immediate medical and mental screenings. And it would allow detainees to protest substandard healthcare and appeal the denial of care.

President Obama did not create the detention system. He does, however, have the power and the moral obligation to ensure that all detainees are treated fairly and humanely, without regard to their immigration status.

Copyright © 2011,

Stopping Deportations Before They Start – How Advocates Can Protect Immigrants Facing Criminal Charges

It is so important for immigration and criminal defense attorneys to work together and for non citizens to be aware of the potential immigration consequences of criminal charges.

Stopping Deportations Before They Start – How Advocates Can Protect Immigrants Facing Criminal Charges

Silicon Valley De-Bug • Op-Ed • Angie Junck, Raj Jayadev • March 30, 2011 On the heels of the one-year anniversary of a historic Supreme Court decision, attorney Angie Junck and organizer Raj Jayadev share lessons learned from a case of a San Jose man who beat a deportation order.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of Padilla v. Kentucky – arguably the most important U.S. Supreme Court decision to date in terms of the nexus between local criminal courts and federal immigration laws. This is also the first week of renewed freedom for Jeysson Minota, a 28-year-old legal permanent resident from Colombia who had been in and out of federal detention centers for the past four years due to charges stemming from graffiti. His detention and his ultimate freedom tell the story of the need and possibility of the Padilla standard.

In the Padilla case, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution requires that criminal defense counsel provide affirmative and competent advice on the immigration consequences of a criminal disposition to noncitizen defendants. The advice is critical to defendants like Minota.

The criminal act that got Minota in the scopes of Homeland Security was vandalism. As a younger man, Minota was a graffiti artist and had plead to a felony charge of vandalism. Immigration and enforcement claimed that vandalism is a ”crime of moral turpitude,” thus being a deportable offense, even though Minota was a greencard holder.

Had his previous lawyers informed Minota that a guilty plea could lead to deportation, he may not have been in detention for four years. Because he did not plead guilty to his more recent misdemeanor criminal charge he was able to eventually win another green card and a new start in the United States, in immigration court. Had he plead guilty to the seemingly innocuous charge, one that would have carried no extra jail time, it would have been equivalent to an immigration death sentence triggering permanent deportation and separation from his U.S. citizen wife, two children, mother, and siblings.

Instead, Minota took his case to trial, and with the advocacy of his public defender, was found innocent. The win gave his immigration attorney a shot to keep him in this country.

But as with any legal device, the decision from Padilla v. Kentucky is a measure of protection that only has value if exercised. There are two glaring and systemic roadblocks that make cases like Minota’s, even with the Padilla decision, more the exception than the rule. Both though can be overcome through legal education and expanding the lens of community advocacy.

Strip away the political value judgments around constitutional protections for immigrants, and you are still left with overly-impacted criminal courts. The reality is guilty pleas, early and often, are perhaps all that prevents the county court systems from bursting at the seams. In fact, less than five percent of all felony cases across the country ever reach the trial stage. Consequently, one of the most fundamental rights afforded to the accused – the right to a public hearing – is circumvented on a daily basis.

For those without immigration consequences plea deals may be the best option in order to receive a lighter sentence, but for those like Minota it is a decision often born out of the pressure and isolation of the experience, and one they may come to regret. In Santa Clara County in 2008, where Minota faced criminal charges, the District Attorney’s office tried only 260 cases (including both misdemeanor and felony cases) out of roughly 30,000 cases. That is less than one percent, meaning the immigration fates of immigrants who are part of that pool of defendants were sealed well before they faced an immigration judge.

Immigrants are often represented by the Public Defender’s office. Public Defender offices across the country appoint attorneys to the indigent — those without the resources to hire a private attorney. In California, 90 percent of all the accused are represented by some form of publicly-appointed counsel. Often times publicly-appointed attorneys have an overwhelming number of cases to juggle compared to private attorneys who choose their own dockets and workload. Consequently, there is an incentive for public attorneys to encourage their clients to plead, rather than take the time for investigation, motions and defense construction for a trial.

In Santa Clara County the Public Defender’s office does not staff all misdemeanor arraignment courts, a key stage where pleas are being entered and where immigrants are digging their own deportation graves. In these settings immigrant defendants, unless they’ve retained private counsel, would not have an attorney to consult with to understand the potentially life altering consequences of the plea they enter.

The second systemic hurdle which makes the enforcement of Padilla difficult is a simple one: Who will hold defense attorneys responsible to meet that criteria? Minota’s case was unique in that he had the help of a community organization that actively challenged his defense attorney to take into account his immigration status, and an immigration attorney who could advise the criminal attorneys. The organization supporting Minota, Silicon Valley De-Bug, his family and his immigration attorney Angie Junck of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center met weekly to assess the status of the case and develop strategies. Minota says, “I knew I could continue to fight because I knew I had people on the outside that were fighting for me.”

The notion of community involvement — communicating with lawyers, reviewing paperwork, attending court hearings — in criminal or immigration cases is currently not common practice, particularly in immigrant communities. The Padilla standard may be a lever to make defense counsel better protect the rights of immigrants, but there have to be people to pull it.

The lessons learned from Minota’s case then are two-fold: The criminal defense bar, particularly public attorneys on immigration matters, need to be educated on immigration consequences to criminal charges and immigrant advocate groups need to see criminal courts as a central space for advocacy to keep families together in this country. That is why the Immigration Legal Resource Center advocates for institutionalizing immigration protocols and resources in defense offices so that defending noncitizens with immigration consequences in mind becomes an integral and ongoing part of criminal defense practice. It is also why Silicon Valley De-Bug is encouraging immigrant advocacy groups across the country to meet with the public defender offices within their counties, to both hold them accountable and to encourage and support their vigilance.

Minota’s freedom is a testament to what is possible when both approaches are employed.

Raj Jayadev is the Director of Silicon Valley De-Bug and a Soros Justice Fellow. Angie Junck is a staff attorney for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center identifies and mentors immigration point persons within defense offices, creates written reference resources, and provides ongoing training and technical assistance to help defenders effectively represent immigrants against the adverse consequences of criminal dispositions.

Silicon Valley De-Bug, through the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project, works to empower families who have had direct contact criminal and immigration laws. They are currently equipping community hubs — churches, ethnic community centers, neighborhood associations — with the tools and information needed to provide sustained support for a loved one who may be detained.

For more information, or to reprint this article contact:

Brothers, Viet Nam Vets Facing Deportation, Speak at UCCS

The Deportation of our US Military Veterans continues and there is not enough of an uprising and outrage regarding this travesty of justice. As Americans we say we support our troops but what about when they come home? We just throw them away?

Brothers, Viet Nam Vets Facing Deportation, Speak at UCCS

Author: Tim Paynter
Published: March 22, 2011 at 7:12 am

Manuel and Valente Valenzuela signed an oath to protect the United State of America when they enlisted in the military. Shortly thereafter, they found themselves fighting for their lives and their country in Viet Nam. Both brothers saw the heat of combat, and Valente, the older brother, had some special duties, something he keeps close to his conscience to this day.

Many Valenzuela friends paid the ultimate price, leaving each brother grateful it was not his time to be called to a higher place while defending democracy in a rice paddy in Viet Nam. Unfortunately, the country that sent our youth to fight and likely die to defend the homeland lacks gratitude for those who answered the call of duty. The United States is in the process of deporting both Valenzuela brothers from it’s borders.

This is a disgraceful story which places yet another black mark on the record of civil rights and respect for dignity of a mighty country. Manuel and Valente Valenzuela were brought to the US by their citizen mother when they were young. They grew up as Americans and consider themselves citizens. They answered the call of duty. They have paid taxes and lived like any other American. Yet they are forced to fight the immigration system after fighting for their country in Southeast Asia.

On March 29th, 2001, Manuel and Valente Valenzuela will tell their story as featured guests at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, (UCCS) Colorado. The presentation will start at 3:00 p.m. at the University Center Building, Room 303.

The brothers will talk about how their deportation proceedings have affected their lives, on top of the post traumatic stress they suffered in Viet Nam. Manuel and Valente will also speak about other veterans who lost their battle to stay in the United States after fighting to defend this country. Few people are aware of the veterans who have been deported despite being considered citizens and required to serve in our armed forces.

The Valenzuela brothers are a prime example of a broken immigration system which panders to the cliché’s of “waiting in the back of the line”. Somewhere the system has failed to take into account veterans who served in combat duty, who offered their lives to protect democracy, and who are now forgotten by a country that pretends to laud freedom and human rights. If deported, the Valenzuela brothers can come back to the United States one final time. That will be to lay their bodies to rest in Arlington National Cemetery after they die in a foreign land. Until then, they will be personas non grata. The talk is open to the public and all are encouraged to attend.

Second thoughts of a ‘hanging judge’

Insights from an experienced Republican judge, justice doesn’t need to be partisan or political…

Second thoughts of a ‘hanging judge’

A death sentence in California rarely leads to an execution. Let’s stop the charade.

By Donald A. McCartin

March 25, 2011

In 1978, the first time Jerry Brown was governor of California, he appointed me to a judgeship in the Superior Court of Orange County. It was a gutsy move on his part, a liberal Democrat naming a right-wing Republican to the bench. I served there until 1993, after which I sat on assignment on death cases throughout California.

During that time, I presided over 10 murder cases in which I sentenced the convicted men to die. As a result, I became known as “the hanging judge of Orange County,” an appellation that, I will confess, I accepted with some pride.

The 10 were deemed guilty of horrifying crimes by their peers, and in the jurors’ view as well as mine they deserved to die at the hands of the state. However, as of today, not one of them has been executed (though one died in prison of natural causes).

I am deeply angered by the fact that our system of laws has become so complex and convoluted that it makes mockery of decisions I once believed promised resolution for the family members of victims.

That said, I have followed the development of legal thinking and understand why our nation’s Supreme Court, in holding that “death is different,” has required that special care be taken to safeguard the rights of those sentenced to death. Such wisdom protects our society from returning to the barbarism of the past. And though I find it discomfiting and to a significant degree embarrassing that appellate courts have found fault with some of my statements, acts or decisions, I can live with the fact that their findings arise out of an attempt to ensure that the process has been scrupulously fair before such a sentence is carried out.

I can live with it and, apparently, so can the men I condemned. The first one, Rodney James Alcala, whom I sentenced to die more than 30 years ago for kidnapping and killing 12-year-old Robin Samsoe, was, just last year, again sentenced to death for killing Samsoe and four other young women who, it has subsequently been determined, were his victims around the same time.

I need not go into the permutations of Alcala’s legal journey. Behind bars since 1979, he has not harmed, nor can he harm, any other young women. But harm has been done, and that’s what infuriates me. Robin Samsoe’s mother has been revictimized time and time again as the state of California spent millions upon millions of dollars in unsuccessful attempts to finally resolve the case against her daughter’s murderer.

Had I known then what I know now, I would have given Alcala and the others the alternative sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Had I done that, Robin’s mother, Marianne, would have been spared the pain of 30 appeals and writs and retrial. She could have dealt then and there with the fact that her daughter’s killer would be shut away, never again to see a day of freedom, and gone on to put her life together. And the people of California would have not have had to pay many millions of tax dollars in this meaningless and ultimately fruitless pursuit of death.

It makes me angry to have been made a player in a system so inefficient, so ineffective, so expensive and so emotionally costly.

I watch today as Gov. Brown wrestles with the massive debt that is suffocating our state and hear him say he doesn’t want to “play games.” But I cringe when I learn that not playing games amounts to cuts to kindergarten, cuts to universities, cuts to people with special needs — and I hear no mention of the simple cut that would save hundreds of millions of dollars, countless man-hours, unimaginable court time and years of emotional torture for victim’s family members waiting for that magical sense of “closure” they’ve been falsely promised with death sentences that will never be carried out.

There is actually, I’ve come to realize, no such thing as “closure” when a loved one is taken. What family members must find is reconciliation with the reality of their loss, and that can begin the minute the perpetrator is sent to a prison he will never leave. But to ask them to endure the years of being dragged through the courts in pursuit of the ultimate punishment is a cruel lie.

It’s time to stop playing the killing game. Let’s use the hundreds of millions of dollars we’ll save to protect some of those essential services now threatened with death. Let’s stop asking people like me to lie to those victim’s family members.

The governor doesn’t have the power to end the death penalty by himself, but he can point the way. He could have a huge financial impact on California by following the lead of Illinois and commuting the sentences of the more than 700 men and women on California’s death row to life without parole.

Donald A. McCartin is a retired Superior Court judge.

I Was Undocumented on “Sesame Street”

I Was Undocumented on “Sesame Street”

Published March 14, 2011 | Fox News Latino

In 1993, when I was 14, I became a regular on “Sesame Street.” The show usually liked to have a teenager on, so that was me. My character had my same name, Carlo, and eventually I got a job at Mr. Hooper’s store. I had to make a birdseed milkshake for Big Bird, that was my tryout. I ended up appearing on “Sesame Street” for five years. But the whole time, I had a secret: I was an undocumented immigrant. The papers I’d used to get hired were fake.

My family had come from Ecuador when I was seven and my older brother Angelo was nine. We came on a tourist visa, and the moment my parents had gotten it, we knew we were not coming back. They sold all our furniture before we left.

My mother had a sister living legally in the United States, and my parents planned to have her sponsor us for residency. Soon after landing in New York, my parents saw a lawyer. But we were told the process would take four or five years.

Coming to the States was traumatic. In Ecuador, we had lived in a house. Here, we were in a small apartment. We didn’t know any English. But you know, at that age, things change quickly. In six months we were speaking English and running around like normal kids. Most of the time, we blended in. But we knew weren’t supposed to be here, and we lived with a lot of fear.

I started acting when I was 11, almost as a fluke. One day, we went to visit our cousins, and they were on their way to try-outs for a community theater production of “Oliver!” It was through a program put on by the city, to get disadvantaged kids off the street. When we got there, the producers were like, “You should try out, too.” So my brother and I did. Then we all went to lunch. When we got home, we had a phone message that we’d both been cast. I was Oliver.

My parents were horrified. I mean, we were illegal. Plus, the theater was about 45 minutes from our house and we only had one car, and my parents worked long hours. But the producers insisted. They came up with a plan where one of them would come to pick us up in the afternoon for rehearsal, and then my parents would go at night and bring us home.

After the play was over, one of the producers told my parents that she thought I could act professionally, and that if we wanted to, she would send me out on casting calls. Again, this was a big moral dilemma for them. But I think they didn’t want to keep this experience from me. There was already so much we couldn’t do. And in the end I think they decided that we had come to this country in search of opportunities, and this was an opportunity.

So I did a couple of plays, and in the beginning, “Sesame Street” was just another audition. It was a role in the 25th anniversary special that was shot in Central Park. Then, I was offered a regular role. I wasn’t about to turn that down. We had counterfeit green cards, but we never showed the actual card. We turned in photocopies, crossed our fingers, and hoped it worked. And this time it did.

I loved being on “Sesame Street.” It was like a big family. But at the same time, it ratcheted up the fear of being found out. At the time, my brother and I were desperately trying to be normal teenagers. We did the normal things: We hung out, we jammed with our friends. None of them knew we weren’t here legally, not even the closest ones. But more and more they were pressuring us and asking questions: Why do you stick so close to your parents? Why can’t you come on this trip to Canada with us? Why can’t you get your license?

(In fact, we tried to get licenses. My father heard of a guy that was selling Puerto Rican birth certificates, and we bought two. My brother’s worked, and he was able to drive. Mine didn’t, and the people at the DMV took it away and told me if I wanted it back, I’d have to go pick it up at the state’s central office. I didn’t, of course.)

With “Sesame Street,” my fear increased. If I got caught, not only would I be found out and deported, but I was on TV, so it would be a public humiliation. It made things very stressful. One year, I was supposed to be part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. For that, you get hired by Macy’s, so again I had to give a social security number and show paperwork. I was scared and wanted my father to change a number on the Xerox. And he didn’t, because he didn’t know how to. I was so angry, we got into a physical altercation. I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face. After everything they had done for us, still one of his children turned on him.

And of course, when I handed the paperwork in, Macy’s barely looked at it. Why would they? Who would believe this kid on Sesame Street would have any kind of a problem?

In the end, it took us 12 years to get our residency. We all had to have our fingerprints taken three times, because the laws about how you had to do it kept changing. On the day that we had our final interview with what was then the INS, my brother, father and I wore suits, and my mother wore a dress. You go in, and they call you into one of these little cubicles. It was April 28, I remember, because it was two days before my brother’s 21st birthday.

Normally, at that point, they’d look over your paperwork and give you a stamp in your passport, and that’s good until you get your green card in the mail. But that day, the official there told us that our fingerprints still hadn’t been processed by the FBI. It was going to take a few more weeks. But because you can only be sponsored by a parent until you’re 21, he said, my brother would no longer be eligible. He had waited 12 years. It was a heartbreaking moment for my family.

That night, my parents wrote our local congressman. We’d met him years before, at one of the performances of “Oliver!,” and my parents had kept in touch. And he helped us. My brother got his residency along with the rest of the family. This was all before 9/11, you know. It would never happen that way now.

Carlo Alban is an actor and playwright. His autobiographical one-man show, “Intringulis,” is playing at New Orleans’s Southern Rep theater through March 23.


A motivational story that cuts across demographics, cultures, political parties, genders with global implications.


A lady in a faded gingham dress and her husband, dressed in a old suit, stepped off the train in Boston and walked timidly without an appointment into the Harvard University President’s outer office. The secretary could tell in a moment that such backwoods, country hicks had no business at Harvard & probably didn’t even deserve to be in Cambridge .

‘We’d like to see the president,’ the man said softly. ‘He’ll be busy all day,’ the secretary snapped. ‘We’ll wait,’ the lady replied. For hours the secretary ignored them, hoping that the couple would finally become discouraged and go away. They didn’t, and the secretary grew frustrated and finally decided to disturb the president, even though it was a chore she always regretted.

‘Maybe if you see them for a few minutes, they’ll leave,’ she said to him! He sighed in exasperation and nodded. Someone of his importance obviously didn’t have the time to spend with them, and he detested gingham dresses and homespun suits cluttering up his outer office. The president, stern faced and with dignity, strutted toward the couple.

The lady told him, ‘We had a son who attended Harvard for one year. He loved Harvard. He was happy here. But about a year ago, he was accidentally killed. My husband and I would like to erect a memorial to him, somewhere on campus.’

The president wasn’t touched. He was shocked. ‘Madam,’ he said, gruffly, ‘we can’t put up a statue for every person who attended Harvard and died. If we did, this place would look like a cemetery.’ ‘Oh, no,’ the lady explained quickly. ‘We don’t want to erect a statue. We thought we would like to give a building to Harvard.’

The president rolled his eyes. He glanced at the gingham dress and homespun suit, then exclaimed, ‘A building! Do you have any earthly idea how much a building costs? We have over seven and a half million dollars in the physical buildings here at Harvard.’

For a moment the lady was silent. The president was pleased. Maybe he could get rid of them now. The lady turned to her husband and said quietly, ‘Is that all it cost to start a university? Why don’t we just start our own? Her husband nodded. The president’s face wilted in confusion and bewilderment.

Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford got up and walked away, traveling to Palo Alto, California where they established the university that bears their name, Stanford University, a memorial to a son that Harvard no longer cared about.

You can easily judge the character of others by how they treat those who they think can do nothing for them.—- A TRUE STORY by Malcolm Forbes.

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel!

U.S., in Shift, Sees Marriage Act as Violation of Gay Rights

Interesting how this will eventually affect US citizens’ rights to petition for their same-sex married partner to come to the United States. Same-sex marriage is legal in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden.

U.S., in Shift, Sees Marriage Act as Violation of Gay Rights
Published: February 23, 2011

WASHINGTON — President Obama, in a major legal policy shift, has directed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act — the 1996 law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages — against lawsuits challenging it as unconstitutional.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. sent a letter to Congress on Wednesday saying that the Justice Department will now take the position in court that the act should be struck down as a violation of same-sex couples’ rights to equal protection under the law.

“The president and I have concluded that classifications based on sexual orientation warrant heightened scrutiny and that, as applied to same-sex couples legally married under state law,” a crucial provision of the act is unconstitutional, Mr. Holder wrote.

The move is sure to be welcomed by gay-rights advocates, who had often criticized Mr. Obama for moving too slowly in his first two years in office to address issues that concern them. Coming after the administration successfully pushed late last year for repeal of the military’s ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly, the change of policy on the marriage law could intensify the long-running political and ideological clash over same-sex marriage as the 2012 presidential campaign approaches.

The government’s new position could have far-reaching implications for the rights of gays and lesbians that extend beyond the Defense of Marriage Act, legal scholars said. Gay rights advocates hailed it as a breakthrough.

“It’s a monumentally important decision,” said Tobias B. Wolff, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania who advised the Obama campaign on gay rights issues.

“The Justice Department and the president have taken the position on behalf of the United States government that discrimination against gay and lesbian people in all cases is presumptively unconstitutional,” he said. “It’s the first time the United States government has ever embraced that position, and if the courts agree, it will help to eradicate all of the various forms of discrimination that gay and lesbian people suffer around the country.”

The president has long said he opposes the Defense of Marriage Act, even as his administration has until now worked to uphold the act’s constitutionality. He has also favored civil unions over gay marriage, much to the consternation of the gay rights advocates who generally support him, but has also said on several recent occasions that his views on gay marriage are “evolving.”

Wednesday’s announcement seemed, to many, to bring him one step closer to reversing his position on gay marriage.

But with gay rights advocates agitating for such a reversal, Mr. Obama has steadfastly resisted talking about a timetable for one. Mr. Wolff said the announcement on Wednesday should give Mr. Obama “a bit more space in his relationship with the LGBT community to come to a decision about that issue in his own time.”

Inside the White House, the discussion about how the Justice Department should handle the Defense of Marriage Act case reached the highest levels. Bob Bauer, Mr. Obama’s White House counsel and a one-time lawyer for the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay advocacy organization, was deeply involved, as was Valerie Jarrett, the president’s senior adviser, who is his liaison to gay rights groups and is viewed as strongly supportive of their causes.

While Mr. Obama has long argued that the Defense of Marriage Act is bad policy and has urged Congress to repeal it, his administration has also sent Justice Department lawyers into court to defend the statute’s constitutionality.

The new position will require the administration to file new briefs in such litigation, including a major case now pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Boston.

Congress may decide to appoint its own lawyers to defend the law, or outside groups may try to intervene in the cases in order to mount legal arguments in the law’s defense. Mr. Holder said that the administration would continue to enforce the act unless and until Congress repeals it, or a court delivers a “definitive verdict against the law’s constitutionality.”

“Our attorneys will also notify the courts of our interest in providing Congress a full and fair opportunity to participate in the litigation in those cases,” he wrote. “We will remain parties to the case and continue to represent the interests of the United States throughout the litigation.”

The decision to change position grew out of an internal administration policy argument, first reported by The New York Times in January, over how to respond to two lawsuits filed late last year in New York.

Citing an executive-branch duty to defend acts of Congress when plausible arguments exist that they are constitutional, the Obama administration had previously argued that legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act should be dismissed.

But those lawsuits were filed in circuits that had precedents saying that when gay people say a law infringes on their rights, judges should use a test called “rational basis” to evaluate that claim. Under that standard, the law is presumed to be constitutional, and challengers must prove that there is no conceivable rational government basis for enacting it, a hard standard for challengers to meet.

But the new lawsuits were filed in districts covered by the appeals court in New York. That court has no precedent establishing which legal test judges should use when evaluating claims that a federal law violates gay people’s rights.

That vacuum meant that the administration’s legal team had to perform its own analysis of whether gay people were entitled to the protection of a test known as “heightened scrutiny.” Under that test, it is much easier to challenge laws that unequally affect a group, because the test presumes that such laws are unconstitutional, and they may be upheld only if the lawmakers’ purpose in enacting them served a compelling governmental interest.

In his letter, Mr. Holder said the administration legal team had decided that gay people merited the protection of the “heightened scrutiny” test, and that under that standard, the Defense of Marriage Act was impossible to keep defending as constitutional.


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