Still no movement on Maria. We're also trying to get to the LA district attorney, Steve Cooley to grant Maria a "re-trial' (technically called a writ of habeas corpus, to present new evidence of her innocence). Either the pardon or the writ would take care of the issue. Maria's lawyers have filed for extensions to her T-Visa and believe they can extend her for a few months. I'm trying to get them to acquiesce to my request to begin the media push. I'll let you know when they give me the ok.
Thanks for your concern. We really appreciate it.
All the Best,
I have heard back from Tina Malave and she is hopeful at the present time that they are currently making headway for Maria's plight for justice. She has aksed that we hold off on doing anymore for the moment...
"They are starting to make a little headway with the Governor's office, so we're trying to give him the opportunity to do it swiftly and quietly. If that doesn't work, then we will launch an all out media campaign and petition, and I will certainly be calling for your help. Again, thank you, and you may be getting a call from me in the next few weeks."
All the Best,
Thank you to everyone who has taken action and please be ready to help if the time comes more is needed. ~Barb~
Producer, writer and television host Tina Malave is one of those rare beautiful birds who can work in front of a camera as well as behind it. Recently, she has been cooking up new network SiTV's relationship talk show, “The Rub”, and also helped to create the independent woman's how-to show “Savvy” on WE network, as host, writer and supervising producer.
By chance she came across a woman, Maria Suarez, who was worlds apart from her own life, and whose personal story captured Tina’s attention.
Malave now advocates for Suarez, galvanizing politicians to allow Suarez a right to asylum in the United States after suffering the most horrific miscarriage of justice.
Tina shared Maria’s story with me, it speaks volumes to the grey areas so many non-residents face in this country that are up against bureaucratic nightmares
Maria entered the U.S. legally from Mexico at the age of 16. Two weeks later, she was lured from her home by an unknown woman and sold to a 68-year-old pedophile, Anselmo Covarrubias, for $200. For over five years, Covarrubias, who was known in his neighborhood as a "brujo" (someone who practiced black magic), enslaved Maria and repeatedly raped, battered, and physically, emotionally and spiritually tortured her.
In 1981, Covarrubias was beaten to death by a man who rented one of his houses after he began harassing the man's wife and child. After hearing her captor scream her name, Maria ran outside and witnessed Covarrubias being murdered. The killer ordered Maria to wash the table leg he used as a weapon and hide it under the house. Maria did what she was told. When the police arrived, the killer and his wife implicated Maria in the crime. After years of extreme trauma, and not understanding English or the US judicial system, Maria was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder.
The killer and his wife later admitted that Maria was innocent. In addition, the attorney that represented Maria wrote a letter to The Board of Prison Terms 20 years into her sentence stating that he completely misrepresented Maria. This was his first criminal trial and he admitted that while he was working on her trial he was consumed by issues of his own personal trial, as he had recently been convicted of a felony of offering to sell or distribute marijuana. He was subsequently sentenced and disbarred. The foreman of the jury that tried her case also wrote in on her behalf, stating that they were not given the option to just convict her of a lesser charge for disposing of the weapon, and that he regrets their verdict.
Maria served 22 and half years in prison.
While in prison, Maria learned English, earned her GED, enrolled in college-level courses, and contributed to numerous volunteer programs. Three lawyers, Jessica Dominguez, Charles Song and Andres Bustamante came together to fight for Maria's release. After two decades of incarceration, the Board of Prison Terms (BPT) determined that Maria was the victim of extreme violence, abuse, and torture at the hands of Covarrubias and recommended her release.
They called Maria's case “one of the most egregious instances of Battered Woman Syndrome that [the BPT] has ever investigated.” Unfortunately, evidence of battering and its effects were not allowed into evidence at the time of Maria's trial.
When Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger came into office in 2004, he granted her parole, but she was still not home free. Immigration laws amended in 1996 provided for the deportation of long-term, legal permanent residents who had been convicted of crime. This amendment mandates that persons wrongly convicted of a crime in America must still be deported. As a consequence, Maria was released from prison only to be detained for deportation by the Department of Homeland Security.
Finally, in May of 2004 she was granted a temporary T-Visa for victims of Human Trafficking, and was able to begin her life with her family for the first time in 27 years in America.
But her nightmare is not over yet. Maria’s visa expires on May 7th, 2007, at which time she will again be subject to deportation because of her conviction for a crime she did not commit. Her lawyers Charles Song (C.A.S.T. - Coalition to Abolish Slave Trafficking) and Jessica Dominguez are still working diligently to obtain a full and unconditional pardon from the Governor or a writ of habeas corpus, and have petitioned the Board of Immigration Appeals to dismiss or reduce the charges against her and allow her to stay in the U.S. as a permanent resident after expiration of the T-visa.
Their appeals so far have been fruitless.
California Representative Hilda Solis (D- El Monte) was a great help in getting Maria a T-Visa when she and 31 other members of congress signed a letter to Tom Ridge and Undersecretary for Border and Transportation, Asa Hutchinson, urging them to help Maria stay in the US.
Solis believes it was the result of lobbying and publicity that ultimately helped Maria receive her first reprieve from deportation. They hope the community will once again come together to help fight for Maria's freedom.
Tina explained how their paths crossed.
"The first time I saw Maria Suarez was in a photo a friend had, I was completely drawn to the picture because the expression on her face was just so joyous, I couldn't take my eyes off of it,” said Tina, who asked the name of the woman and was told her story.
“At the time I was doing some work with an organization called Safe Passage that helps abused and battered women. We were preparing for a benefit and awards ceremony and one of the acknowledgements was the ‘Women Crowned in Glory’ award. This award was to be given to someone who was a victim of abuse who managed to overcome tragedy and go on to help others."
“I knew I wanted Maria Suarez to receive that award. The horror and injustice that she lived through for almost 30 years would be enough to annihilate the heart of any man or woman, and it only made hers stronger and more giving, so I arranged to meet her in person."
When I asked Tina why she was going to this extraordinary effort for a woman she didn't know very well. She blamed it on "love" at first sight. "I expected to meet either a very meek or bitter woman, but instead I met a strong, peaceful, love filled woman who has become my dear friend and hero."
"There’s a quote by Kahlil Gibran that says, ‘The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.’ I want to help facilitate a situation where she can be free to fill those fissures with as much joy as humanly possible,” said Tina.
I asked Tina what were the next steps for Maria in her fight to stay here in the United States.
“We are urging Governor Schwarzenegger to grant a full, unconditional pardon to Maria Suarez, a victim of sexual slavery and pedophilia who was wrongfully convicted for the death of her trafficker so she can live a life of freedom and heal from the trauma of years of abuse,” stated Malave.
“Unless she is granted a full and unconditional pardon, Maria will remain on parole for a crime she did not commit, continue to be treated like a convicted criminal, and in May 2007, when her T-Visa expires she will be deported to Mexico, where she will once again be separated from her family and friends and suffer other mental, emotional and physical extreme hardships.”
Malave is convinced that if Governor Schwarzeneggar reviews Suarez’s record and meets with her, that the Governor, an immigrant himself, would find Maria's case worthy of a full and unconditional pardon.
Regarding Suarez’s fate, Malave replied that despite many legal advocates urging her to file a lawsuit, Suarez has no desire to take that path, already so much of her life was wasted and consumed by legal matters, courts and wrongful incarceration.
Suarez wants to advocate for people caught in the legal system deaf to the poor and victims of sexual predators.
Tina Malave is currently developing a screenplay and Maria's memoir, with Suarez. She dreams of freedom for Maria.
“My hopes are for her to be free. Free of needing to check in with a parole officer. Free to live and travel where she wants, when she wants. Free to be with her friends and family. Free to be financially independent and able to take care of herself and her family in the way she dreams she can. Free to live in a country that she loves,” Malave concluded.
Malave's focus now has shifted from celebrity driven material to more meaningful projects upon her involvement with Maria Suarez’s fight for citizenship.
“The shows I do are primarily entertainment oriented. They're fun, and I hope to always be able to do that kind of work, but Maria’s story means much more to me. In addition to her biography and movie, we are collaborating on a scripted television project and a documentary special to bring awareness to the horrific and very real issue of human trafficking.”
Another long-term goal Tina expressed was her desire to help raise funds for Maria to establish a facility that provides shelter, counseling and help for victims of abuse, with a team of available professionals on hand to help raise issues and amend laws on human trafficking and abuse so that no one will experience what Maria was forced to live through in this country ever again.
Maria Suarez currently lives with her sister and mother in Los Angeles and attends college to become a social worker assisting other trafficking victims.
She also works with men who are convicted abusers and sex offenders who are court ordered to receive counseling. She has become an outspoken advocate of rights for survivors of trafficking and battered women – speaking in national conferences, legislative hearings and media events.
She still awaits her fate of possible deportation May 7, 2007
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