Berkeley’s Ecology Center recycling director freed from detainment

Phillip Downey/Staff

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A Berkeley recycling director was released from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody Aug. 14 after spending more than two months in various detention facilities around California.

Daniel Maher, 41, was apprehended by armed ICE agents on his way to work at Berkeley’s Ecology Center in early June. Because of a felony conviction from more than two decades ago, Maher has been detained multiple times by ICE agents to face potential deportation to China, despite living there for only the first three years of his life.

“Frankly, we were traumatized by his sudden disappearance,” said Amy Kiser, program director at the Ecology Center. “We all got a crash course in how broken and inhumane our immigration system is. We never wavered from our conviction that Daniel has long since paid his dues.”

According to Kiser, when Maher was 20, he allegedly helped rob an auto-parts store. He served a five-year prison sentence for kidnapping, robbery and a firearms offense.

When he was released from prison, Maher was detained by immigration authorities for more than a year while authorities waited to deport him to China. When Chinese authorities declined to provide travel documentation to carry out the removal order, however, Maher was released with an order of supervision, requiring him to report regularly to a deportation officer.

In the years since, Maher has worked three jobs. He has worked at the Ecology Center for 10 years.

According to ICE’s statement, the ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations officials in San Francisco were advised that there was a possibility of obtaining a travel document for Maher, which prompted the agency’s most recent detainment. Maher was released “after it became apparent the agency would not be able to obtain a travel document from the Chinese government in the foreseeable future,” the statement said.

Since Maher’s latest detainment, the Asian Law Caucus — a civil rights organization — along with the Ecology Center and other advocacy groups have worked to garner community support for his release. The groups organized a petition to ICE Field Director Craig Meyer, which received more than 3,000 signatures, and reached out to Mayor Tom Bates and Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle for support.

The Asian Law Caucus also organized a rally outside ICE’s San Francisco field offices with about 50 people in attendance two days before Maher’s release.

At a press conference Thursday, Maher expressed gratitude for the widespread community support, which he believes contributed to his release. Maher spoke of his luck in returning to his job at the Ecology Center, which kept his post open during the duration of his detainment.

“You know, I’ve turned my life around because I’ve actually been given a second chance,” Maher said about his past. “I’m never going to make those decisions again.”

Despite his release, Maher said there is still a possibility that ICE can procure a travel document to deport him back to China, so he is continuing to work with his attorney, Anoop Prasad, to secure his U.S. residency.

Maher spoke about his detainment, during which he was moved five times.

At the conference, Maher’s supporters said they wanted to continue advocating immigration reform to help people in situations similar to Maher’s.

“We are here to celebrate Daniel’s release, but we are also here to say that we will continue fighting,” said Annette Wong, Chinese for Affirmative Action’s immigrant rights program manager, at the press conference.

Contact Sujin Shin at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sujinjshin.