Last fall, I made a decision to publicly support a colleague of mine who found herself in imminent danger of being deported. Turns out she was–and still is–an undocumented worker. I’d had no idea. When she was picked up by police at a routine traffic stop, her very private life was almost immediately made public. Her name is Pascale Fusshoeller, and she is the “head geek” at Yubanet.com, my go-to site for news in the Sierra.
Years ago, I was a novice reporter. A volunteer at first, I eventually worked part time for local and regional radio and print outlets. On occasion, when a big local story was in the works, I’d show up at a Nevada County Board of Supervisors’ meeting. Sometimes my boss would attend instead. Whichever of us was there, we’d see Pascale. She attended the meetings every week–whether something important was on the agenda or not. She was usually sitting alone in the press box. Frequently during those meetings I’d become lost, not having the context a diligent reporter should have. I’d lean over and ask her for a translation. She always offered it with no drama or slant–just the 411 in few words so she could keep paying attention. I doubt she knew it, but she was like a mentor to me. Studying her, I learned how to be a better reporter.
Eventually I realized I was not cut out for that job, and I went back to teaching English at the local college. Although Yubanet has no paywall, I subscribed to it to support her efforts. I visited Yubanet’s site or Facebook page almost daily, and during fire season, several times a day. In all the months of being acquainted with her, we’d never had a personal conversation, and I had no idea of her circumstances. I only knew she was the best reporter I’d ever come across.
A journalist from the local paper let me know about Pascale’s arrest last fall, and that evening–in a scary fit of compulsion and outrage–I started a Facebook support page for her. Within minutes, others in the community stepped forward to run the page with me. Within hours, hundreds had liked the page and pledged to support her. When we found that ICE was holding her in solitary confinement and fast tracking her deportation, many of us changed our profile pictures to read “Free Pascale”. People labored on many fronts to free her, and it worked. ICE released her and later dropped its order of deportation. Pascale, now legally married to a U.S.citizen who has been her partner for 15 years, is working on the paperwork for her green card.
Pascale was released on a Tuesday, if I remember correctly. Exhausted and traumatized, she still insisted on seeing and thanking those of us who had helped her stay in the country. She was anxious to get Yubanet up and running again, and indeed, at five the next morning, her coverage recommenced. More than ever, she said, she was committed to serving our community. Since she was already a devoted public servant, it was hard to imagine her ratcheting it up. And yet she did.
Some in our community were upset that we didn’t rally for every undocumented worker as we did for Pascale, and their point is well taken. Perhaps my motivations were selfish–I didn’t want my favorite news outlet to disappear. My motivations were definitely personal, since I’d worked with Pascale before. Many wrote into our page that she should be deported because she was violent and on the pubic dole–both of these are the complete opposite of the truth. Instead of taking from our community and our nation she has for fifteen years peacefully contributed to it by founding and running Yubanet, which is nationally known for its cutting edge coverage of wild fires in the Sierra. Others who called for her deportation cited her as flakey for not marrying sooner. Fortunately, today, we are increasingly aware that sexual orientation is not a choice. Pascale married her partner as soon as DOMA was overturned. Spend five minutes perusing Yubanet.com and you will see how far from flakey this woman is.
What does it take to beat ICE? It takes a community to stand behind you, a spouse who is a U.S. citizen, and, let’s not forget, a couple good lawyers who don’t come cheap. Pascale’s predicament left her and her wife in considerable debt, which is why we who have supported her have gone into fundraising mode. I want Pascale’s legal debt retired and a green card in her pocket. Towards this end, her supporters are producing a huge fundraiser this Sunday, January 5. We named the event “Yay! Pascale!” not only to celebrate ICE’s removal of the deportation order, but to celebrate Pascale’s contribution to our community through Yubanet.
I have said several times that my decision to support Pascale has held many blessings for me. The greatest of these is that she and I have become friends, which is always a thrill for a novice who once looked up to her mentor from a distance. For fifteen years, Pascale has paid it forward to our community, to our firefighters, to U.S. citizens in the Sierra. Now it’s our turn to help her as she continues to be the public servant she wants to be. Come to the Miners’ Foundry in downtown Nevada City on January 5 from 2-6. Enjoy the music and the food and the company. Pick up something you might need at the auction. Marvel at the extent of support for this humble, private woman. And if you use Yubanet.com, become a real reader. Pay for what you use. Invest in the best reporter I’ve ever known.