Sam Levin Profile picture
28 Jan, 12 tweets, 5 min read
NEWS: Bounchan Keola, the incarcerated firefighter who California sent to ICE for deportation, is free after 22 years.

He was released from ICE custody yesterday and is now reuniting with his family for the first time in decades: Image
When Boun was working as an incarcerated firefighter last fall, he suffered a near-death injury.

He had two weeks left of his sentence at the time, but California transferred him to ICE instead of releasing him to his family. My story from November:

theguardian.com/us-news/2020/n…
Boun, 39, has been incarcerated since age 16. If California had not reported him to ICE, he would've gone home last year to his family and received medical treatment for his firefighting injuries.

Instead, he's been stuck in ICE jail, threatened with deportation to Laos.
Due to @GavinNewsom's policy of transferring people from prison to ICE at the end of their sentences, Boun lost his green card + has been fighting deportation to Laos, which his family fled when he was 4 years old. He's finally home now, though will still have to report to ICE.
Statement from Boun via his lawyer @anoop_alc at @aaaj_alc: "I can't describe how good freedom feels after 22 years. Thank you to everyone who supported me and saw that I was more than my past mistakes..." (1/2)
"... I hope Gavin Newsom will see that too and decide to stop turning us over to ICE and pardon my fellow firefighter, Kao Saelee." (2/2)

My earlier story on Kao, another firefighter + refugee from Laos, who CA transferred to ICE. He's still in detention. theguardian.com/us-news/2020/s…
Boun fought to protect communities on the frontlines during the Bear, Gold, CZU Complex, Glenn Lighting, and Zogg wildfires. Despite all of this and the fact that he suffered serious neck and back injuries on the job, California turned him over to ICE for deportation in October.
Statement from @aaaj_alc: "ALC fought for Boun’s release from ICE detention, but there are tens of thousands of others like him sitting in ICE detention hoping for freedom. Take action with us today and call on the Biden administration to free them all TODAY." More:
"As the new Administration works to undo harms caused by immigration policies of the past, President Biden must also dismantle a racist and cruel criminalization, detention and deportation machine that has separated millions of families." - @aaaj_alc
"Despite President Biden’s call for a 100-day 'pause' on deportations, ICE continues to cruelly detain + arrest incarcerated immigrants when they complete their sentences or become eligible for release. Join us in welcoming Boun home + calling on Biden to stop all ICE arrests.."
Reminder: Not only was Kao Saelee transferred to ICE custody, ICE decided to fly him to a jail in Louisiana, where he remains today.

“I paid my debt to society, and I think I should have a chance to be with my family,” he told me back in September.

theguardian.com/us-news/2020/s…
You can hear more about Boun and California's policy of transferring people from prison to ICE in this @guardian podcast episode I did with @rachel_hump, which includes some of my chats with Boun in ICE custody. theguardian.com/news/audio/202…

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More from @SamTLevin

12 Jan
I spent time inside a South LA hospital with the highest rate of Covid patients in the region – the epicenter of the epicenter of America's out-of-control pandemic.

Here's what I saw + heard from frontline staff battling the catastrophic surge. THREAD:

theguardian.com/us-news/2021/j…
Entire families are hospitalized – husbands and wives, twin brothers in their 20s, parents and their children. Anahiz Correa, ICU nurse manager, recounted a mother and son who ended up dying in the same ICU room weeks apart. "The patients are much sicker and it’s not clear why.”
Martin Luther King Jr Community Hospital has put beds in an old gift shop, which has a small sign on the door indicating “patient care in progress.” The chapel around the corner is filled with gurneys. Patients are treated in the waiting room + doubled up in spaces meant for one.
Read 23 tweets
17 Dec 20
A short thread on the California prison system's Covid catastrophe + vaccine access:

Advocates + experts are arguing that CDCR must urgently make vaccines available to incarcerated people, mandate vaccines for guards, AND do mass releases of elderly/vulnerable. Here's why ⬇️
CDCR has a long history of severe medical neglect + abuse, including experimenting on incarcerated people. Some will likely be reluctant or scared to take a vaccine. This mistrust is compounded by the fact that CDCR has spread Covid across the system, infecting 31,000+ people.
Incarcerated people in CA have witnessed CDCR’s botched Covid response, which has allowed guards to bring Covid to every single prison, leading to mass and worsening outbreaks and 104 deaths. So why would people inside trust a vaccine? says @jamesking0314:
Read 11 tweets
13 Dec 20
NEW: California is on track to allow mass evictions to begin during the worst phase of the pandemic so far. Millions are at risk, and many more will die of Covid if lawmakers don't pass new tenant protections.

A short thread on what's at stake ⬇️

theguardian.com/us-news/2020/d…
-More than 2 million households said they couldn't pay rent in November, and that # will increase with new shutdowns.

-Tenants owe an estimated $1.7 billion in unpaid rent, and California law currently says they are on the hook for all of it, which will be impossible for many.
Evictions mean more people will die. When other states lifted eviction moratoriums, it led to 433,700 additional Covid cases + 10,700 more fatalities, according to @LeifScience.

Given the scale of the crisis in CA, the fatal consequences will be catastrophic here.
Read 11 tweets
15 Oct 20
NEW: I interviewed Jackie Lacey + George Gascón about their tight race for LA district attorney, arguably the most important criminal justice election in the US. There are huge differences in their beliefs on incarceration + safety.

Thread on my chats ⬇️

theguardian.com/us-news/2020/o…
LA has the largest jail system in the world + extremely high prison rates. I asked Lacey if the region jails too many people.

She said no, and warned that if she were a less punitive DA, LA would “deteriorate” with the “criminal community” + “predators” flocking to the region.
Lacey has fought for the right to continue prosecuting children under the age of 12, and has continued to try youth as adults. She said this was warranted for some crimes: "You can say, 'Oh you’re incarcerating children!' but that’s not the act of a child or the mind of a child."
Read 19 tweets
22 Sep 20
NEW: Kao Saelee worked as an incarcerated firefighter in California.

But when his release date came, the state partnered with ICE and transferred him to detention. He now faces deportation to Laos, a country his family fled when he was two years old.

theguardian.com/us-news/2020/s…
Kao, now 41, has been imprisoned since he was a teenager. Even though he completed his sentence and fought wildfires, @GavinNewsom + CDCR handed him over to ICE.

“I paid my debt to society, and I think I should have a chance to be with my family," Kao told me from ICE jail. Image
When his release date came on August 6, Kao's sister was waiting outside the prison to take him home for the first time in two decades. Instead, guards handed Kao over to a private security contractor for ICE who shackled his hands, waist and legs, put him in a van and drove off.
Read 17 tweets
16 Sep 20
NEW: In Oregon, there is now a confirmed Covid-19 outbreak linked to the evacuation of Coffee Creek prison in the fire zone. Two prisoners have tested positive + Dept of Corrections says they mixed with groups outside of their units during evacuation to Deer Creek, another prison
Here’s part of DOC statement to @TaraHerivel and other attorneys. “Female AIC” refers to an incarcerated woman who tested positive. State is now expediting return of evacuated prisoners to Coffee Creek. Delays in tests results have made this situation more complicated, DOC says. Image
DOC says it appears the two Covid+ prisoners didn’t mix with the population at Deer Ridge, the prison where evacuees were placed. There is still fear about a possible mass outbreak. The fire threat is not over. For thousands of impacted families, this is an unimaginable nightmare
Read 7 tweets

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