Berkeley nonprofit program director Daniel Maher faces deportation

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Daniel Maher, a program director at a Berkeley nonprofit organization, faces possible deportation because of his involvement in a robbery more than two decades ago.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, would deport Maher to China, where he lived for only the first three years of his life, because of his involvement in a robbery when he was 20 years old. He served seven years in prison for the crime.

For the past 10 years, Maher has worked at the Ecology Center in Berkeley, an organization that “focuses on the environmental impacts of urban residents,” according to its website.

“If he were to be deported, not only would he have to start his life completely over, but he would have to do so without knowing the language,” said Debbie Beyea, deputy director of the Ecology Center.

The San Francisco-based Asian Law Caucus, which is representing Maher, created an online petition to protest his deportation. The petition had amassed nearly 1,900 signatures as of Sunday afternoon, nearing its goal of 3,200.

Addressed to Craig Meyer, the ICE assistant field office director for Northern California, the petition includes a letter asking him to exercise his prosecutorial discretion by dropping the charges against Maher. The letter asserts that Maher has “committed his life to bettering himself and the community around him and should not be punished for a conviction for which he has already served his time.”

“He’s lived here — he’s been a contributing taxpaying citizen of the United States for most of his adult years,” Beyea said. “And especially the past decade and a half, he has been an exemplary citizen, so we need people like that here.”

Maher came into custody of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service in February 2000 after he served a sentence for kidnapping, robbery and a firearms offense, which are considered aggravated felonies, according to a statement released by ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice.

An immigration judge with the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review ordered Maher’s deportation in May 2000 because of his criminal convictions, so deportation officers then attempted to obtain a travel document for the Chinese government to carry out the removal order, according to the statement.

When Chinese authorities declined to provide the documentation, a federal judge ordered Maher’s release on a writ of habeas corpus, with the requirement that he regularly check in with a deportation officer, the statement said.

After being recently advised that it could be possible to obtain the necessary documents for Maher’s deportation, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations officials in San Francisco took him into custody June 5.

“As a convicted aggravated felon, Mr. Maher remains an enforcement priority based on his criminal history,” Kice said in the statement.

According to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security memorandum for apprehension, detention and removal policies for undocumented immigrants, those convicted of an aggravated felony represent one of the highest priority groups “to which enforcement resources should be directed.”

Cherry Maher, Daniel Maher’s sister-in-law, said the news of his deportation was very sudden. Daniel Maher helped to support the family by making sure his youngest brother could attend and graduate from pharmacy school, she said.

“We were so used to Daniel — our brother, friend, uncle, boyfriend — being a part of our life every day that him not being here feels like we’re completely empty, like there’s a void,” Cherry Maher said. “It feels like someone is stripping us away and tearing our family apart.”

According to the statement, Daniel Maher is currently being held in a facility in Southern California while ICE “pursues his removal.”

Beyea said that Maher’s job is being held for him and that the Ecology Center “can’t wait for him to come back.”

Contact Kayla Kettmann at [email protected].