Marisela Andrade: ‘I'm not going to give up’

September 6, 2023 Perspective

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In partnership with Survival Media Agency and ICE Out of CA coalition, the Home, Not Heartbreak photo series captures the stories of Californians who have been affected directly by the state’s prison-to-ICE pipeline. Immigrant and refugee Californians are organizing to make sure that broadly-supported, existing criminal justice reforms apply to everyone equally regardless of immigration status and that more Californians are able to come home and rebuild their lives. While these community members represent just a sample of the thousands of California families and residents harmed by unjust ICE transfers each year, their stories and leadership are inspiring people across the state to urge their legislators and Gov. Newsom to pass and sign the HOME Act (AB 1306) and reunite immigrant families.

On a recent summer afternoon, the sweltering heat is palpable but Marisela Andrade’s spirits are high as she greets family and friends who have come into town to celebrate her birthday. The group exchanges chatter and hugs as they beam, excited to be in the same room. It’s a special occasion, not only because it’s Marisela’s birthday, but also because not long ago this gathering would have been unthinkable.

This past March, Marisela was able to reunite with her family after over 15 years incarcerated in California’s state prison system and two years in immigration detention in Aurora, CO. More than a thousand miles away from her home in California, Marisela endured exploitative conditions in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention. She lived with the threat of deportation to Mexico and her repeated requests for medical care went ignored, a horrifically common experience for countless community members detained by ICE. Still, the U.S. had been her home for more than two decades and even as she dealt with abuse and fear, Marisela kept telling herself, “I’m not going to give up.”

Marisela Andrade outside the Community Justice Center in Fresno. (Justin Katigbak | Survival Media Agency)

She shares, “ICE is a very difficult thing. I worked in the laundry and I worked doing housekeeping.They paid me a dollar a day. I told the doctors that my hip hurt. [The doctors] don’t pay attention to you. Everything is awful in there.”

Before Marisela was transferred to ICE by California prison officials, she had been busy. She learned English, picked up crocheting, and participated in self-help groups focused on domestic violence and abuse dynamics. Several years into her incarceration, Marisela applied for commutation from Governor Brown. The governor shortened her sentence, making her eligible for a parole hearing. A year later, the Parole Board also agreed Marisela was ready to rejoin her community and approved her parole. With two significant steps behind her, Marisela began preparing for her release.

The cruelty of the California prison system and immigration policies meant that none of her earnest efforts to heal from trauma stemming from domestic violence and show remorse for past harm mattered when she walked out of prison. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation moved to illegally hold Marisela past her release date in order to transfer her to ICE custody - taking her away from the family and friends waiting outside the prison gates.

She recalls thinking in that moment, “I said ‘I'm outside, but now I'm going inside again.’ I remember I was passing the Bakersfield freeway and I said, look, here are my daughters. And I was happy, but sad because I knew they were going to lock me up again.”

Marisela Andrade takes photos of friends, family, and supporters at her birthday celebration (Justin Katigbak | Survival Media Agency)

Marisela Andrade takes photos of friends, family, and supporters at her birthday celebration (Justin Katigbak | Survival Media Agency)

As Marisela fought for her freedom out of prison and ICE, a growing group of supporters and advocates from the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) have become an important source of hope. Along with the ICE out of California coalition, they’ve gathered signatures calling on Governor Newsom to pardon Marisela so she’s no longer threatened with deportation and can come home to her family. (Support Marisela’s pardon campaign and add your name to a statewide petition!)

Marisela also reflects on the support of her church and the Community Justice Center: “I don't know what motivates me, I [thank] God for my support that I have, because I have a lot of support and that they are always encouraging me so that I don't give up.”

With the support of this community, Marisela was able to get out of ICE detention. This summer, she was able to enjoy birthday cake and festive balloons with loved ones and supporters - and it brings up a mix of emotions. “I loved it. I [also] felt very nervous because they wanted me to talk. I felt all the support they are giving me. And even though sometimes I feel alone, I say okay, I am not alone, I have a lot of people around me. ”

Partygoers watch as Marisela Andrade is presented with a cake topped with birthday candles. (Justin Katigbak | Survival Media Agency)

ACTION: Call Gov. Newsom them to pass the HOME Act and keep Californians like Marisela home.

Today, Marisela remains focused on meeting the conditions of her parole, while also preparing for an uncertain future. On top of the threat of deportation, she worries about how she can support herself and get treatment for longstanding injuries. She finds comfort in singing in her church choir and looks forward to one day going to the beach. When asked about bigger plans, she replies: “In one of the [prison] programs, Breaking The Chains, they told me that they are going to help me look into expunging my record. And if they can do it for me, then I would like to work helping older people, taking care of them. And I would like to volunteer for the CCWP, so that I can help other women.”

Friends, family members and supporters gather around Marisela for a photo. This community is also helping her advocate for her pardon. (Justin Katigbak | Survival Media Agency)

Thousands of Californians like Marisela have earned their release from prison and are at risk of being deported and separated from their families. The state legislature is currently considering AB 1306, or the Harmonizing Our Measures for Equality (HOME) Act, which would prevent California from transferring to ICE anyone who has earned release from state prison through recent criminal justice reforms, including clemency actions by the governor. For Marisela, the bill would change her life. She would no longer be defined by her worst mistake. Marisela hopes that the governor in Sacramento, where all the laws are made, can understand a little, or just put themselves a little in our shoes, because they too can make the same mistakes. But if they put themselves in our shoes a bit, they should pass those laws.”

Marisela Andrade stands in the shade outside the Community Justice Center in Fresno. (Justin Katigbak | Survival Media Agency)

Photos by Justin Katigbak | Survival Media Agency