Immigration debate brings another pending Bay Area deportation case into question

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) -- The shooting on Pier 14 has thrown local and national immigration policies into the spotlight. Now, another case of an undocumented Bay Area immigrant being deported has some critics calling into question the inconsistencies in US Immigration policy.

Daniel Maher, 41, came to the U.S. as a toddler from Macau. He's lived in the Bay Area his entire life and is now about to be deported for a crime he committed and served time for decades ago.

“I just keep my spirits up and hope that at the time, I'll rise to the challenge,” Maher said in a phone interview with KTVU from a detention facility in Southern California.

We spoke with Maher over the phone, from the detention facility he's been held in for the past month.

“It's not necessarily the past that really defines a person,” he said.

But Maher, an undocumented immigrant, said he's been trying to overcome his past for decades.

When he was 20 years old he was involved in an armed robbery -- an aggravated felony. He served five years in prison for the crime and when he got out he was almost deported. China refused to issue travel documents, and Maher was released.

“The moment I stepped out of detention. I never looked back. I've never had any more run-ins with the law, I'm a law-abiding person.

I started working,” Maher said.

He says he spent the next 15 years of his life trying to make amends, and worked his way up to program director at the non-profit Ecology Center in Berkeley.

But last month, ICE agents showed up at his door and took him away in handcuffs. Maher has been at a detention facility in Southern California ever since, while he waits to be deported to China.

In a statement, ICE spokesperson, Virginia Kice explained : "As a convicted, aggravated felon, mr. Maher remains an enforcement priority based on his criminal history."

University of San Francisco Immigration Law Professor Bill Hing said the law is not cut and dry about which immigrants are enforcement priorities. “There's vast discretion ICE has, in who they're going to pick and choose to make a priority,” Hing said.

“Where the priorities [of ICE] are wrong, is not letting him have a day in court, to prove he's rehabilitated,” Hing said.

Under immigration law, undocumented immigrants who are convicted of an aggravated felony have no process or legal recourse to plead their case and explain why they should be allowed to stay in the country, even if they have taken steps to improve their lives and contribute to society after they’ve served their prison sentence.

Maher said that is what is most discouraging about ICE’s policies. “It would be great if they would look at  the history of a person after the fact, rather  than determining a person is a lost cause,” he said.

Maher said he does not know how to read or speak Mandarin and has no remaining family in China. He said he would probably end up homeless if he’s deported. Maher said he is trying to maintain a positive outlook, and said he’s relying on the help and support from friends, family and co-workers while he’s stuck in the detention facility.

Attorneys at the Asian Law Caucus are helping him fight his deportation. It is unclear how long Maher will have to stay in the detention facility before being deported, since ICE has the ability to hold people in those detention facilities for months, or even years at a time.