Ethiopian woman gets California governor’s attention as she faces deportation for shooting abusive husband

Liyah Birru
Liyah Birru facing deportation from the United States to Ethiopia after completing her four-year sentence for shooting and injuring her husband

After stomaching months of physical abuse from her husband, Liyah Birru finally exploded and stood up to her abusive partner. She shot and injured him in a selfless act of defence.

That act of self-defence has rattled her world, spending four years in jail and now faces deportation from the United States to her home country of Ethiopia.

Birru, however, has one last opening of avoiding deportation to the East African country in the Horn of Africa, rugged and landlocked split by the Great Rift Valley—Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Birru, 35, came to the United States as a legal resident in 2014. She has been languishing in jail since shooting her husband, Silas D’Aloisio in the back eight months after her arrival for abusing her unabatedly.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had taken her into custody after completing her four-year sentence in state prison and began processing her for deportation.

Newsom, according to people with an understanding of his thoughts has been giving great contemplation to pardon requests from people targeted for deportation, prompted largely by the Trump administration’s widespread crackdown on immigrants, especially those with criminal records. The ICE is averaging approximately 7,000 deportations per month from the U.S. interior.

“I have petitions for many, many others that are pending or we’re considering,” Los Angeles Times reported Newsom as saying. “Good people can disagree, but I will continue to consider that and put a lot of weight on that — deportation.”

Newsom since taking office in January pardoned 14 people, off that number three were refugees in the process of being removed from the United States by federal immigration officials.

Opportunity to correct injustice

Birru’s attorney, Anoop Prasad said Newsom intervention would provide him an opportunity to correct an injustice against a woman with no other history of violence or wrongdoing, even while in prison.

Prasad argued in the pardon application that Birru felt trapped in an abusive marriage and shot her husband in desperation, seeing no other means of escape, reports Los Angeles Times.

However, Birru’s husband denied ever abusing her.

Jerry Brown, Newsom’s predecessor, issued 273 pardons in his final year in office, with at least 19 going to people who faced or feared deportation.

A pardon from the governor restores legal rights and, in most cases, eliminates the grounds for deportation for immigrants who are legal permanent residents.

Birru’s case promises to test the traditional bounds of executive clemency in California as the act of forgiveness has been almost exclusively reserved for people who have spent years proving they were fit, productive members of society after being released from prison.

The three immigrants Newsom pardoned from the 14 people since taking office in January had all been out of prison for more than a decade and that was long enough to demonstrate that they had been “living an upright life,” he said in his official pardons for each.

But Birru’s case promises to present Newsom, who repeatedly called out President Trump as an anti-immigrant “demagogue” a peculiar challenge, which is she hadn’t been in prison for more than a decade to fit his long-enough-to-demonstrate “living an upright life.”

“She was forced into a situation where she really didn’t have a choice,” said Prasad, an immigration attorney for the group Asian Americans Advancing Justice. “It’s not like she poses a danger to society.”

The ‘Free Liyah’ campaign

A “Free Liyah” campaign has been launched by Civil rights organisation across North California to put pressure on Newsom to pardon her.

The campaign has collected more than 35,000 signatures on a petition urging the California Gov. to pardon Birru.

“We’re here today to affirm that black lives matter. That black women matter. That black immigrant women matter,” Marena Blanchard of Color of Change, a civil rights group, said during a July rally outside the governor’s office at the state Capitol.

Aylaliya “Liyah” Birru was an owner of a gift and clothing shop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when she first met D’Aloisio, a Marine stationed at the U.S. Embassy, in 2011. After dating for close to a year, the two married in Ethiopia. When D’Aloisio was reassigned to the United States, Birru had to wait two years for a spousal visa before she could join him at the couple’s apartment in Roseville, just outside Sacramento.

Within weeks, Birru said, her husband started scolding her, calling her a “slut” and “whore,” according to court records. Birru said D’Aliosio, in fits of rage, cut up her clothes, threw her against a wall, broke her laptop computer, threatened to have her deported and punched her in the ribs, court records show.

D’Aliosio denied the allegations, according to court records.

I don’t know how I allowed myself to be controlled

Birru who considered her a strong woman wondered in an interview with the Los Angeles Times how she allowed herself to be controlled.

I don’t know how I allowed myself to be controlled,” Birru said from Yuba County Jail, where she is being held in ICE custody. “I wondered how people got into these situations, and then I was [in one] myself. I didn’t even know it,” she added.

On the morning of Dec. 14, 2014, Birru and D’Aliosio engaged in a heated argument after she accused him of being unfaithful. Birru told police that her husband pushed her against a wall, struck her in ribs and pulled her hair. Officers called to the apartment later reported that her face was bruised and swollen and her lower lip bloodied, court records show.

Birru went to the bedroom and grabbed her husband’s handgun from the closet.

Birru told authorities she removed all the bullets from the gun, or so she thought, went to the living room to confront him and then pulled the trigger “so it would make a sound to say, ‘Pay attention.’”

However, the gun still had a bullet in the chamber and it fired, striking D’Aliosio in the back and puncturing one of his lungs. He fell out of an open sliding glass door and collapsed. D’Aliosio has since recovered, at least partly, and was interviewed during her sentencing process.

Marriage and family therapist Linda Barnard, who evaluated Birru for the defense during the criminal trial, said she was a victim of “intimate partner battering,” which led directly to her shooting her husband.

“It is a common myth that battered women can, and should, just leave the relationship if it is really so bad,” Barnard said in her report submitted to the court. “In this case, Lylaliya had nowhere to go and no support system.”

A California law passed in 2018 and signed by Gov. Brown requires that the state Board of Parole Hearings give expedited review to pardon requests from people facing deportation.

Newsom’s office has turned Birru’s case over to the board for review, and an investigator has already interviewed her about her allegations of abuse.

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