While the nation was preoccupied celebrating the holidays, the governors of two major states pardoned immigrants convicted of serious crimes to shield them from deportation. First, California Governor Jerry Brown pardoned two men on the verge of being deported for committing crimes in the U.S., according to a Sacramento news report.
Days later, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo pardoned 18 immigrants convicted of serious crimes so they could remain in the country. The foreigners had obtained legal immigration status in the United States but committed such abhorrent crimes that they faced removal after the completion of their criminal sentence. An official statement issued by the governor’s office refers to the pardoned as “contributing members of society” who face the “threat of deportation and other immigration-related challenges” as a result of their crimes.
Cuomo said the foreign criminals he pardoned had been rehabilitated but the “stigma of convictions” prevented them from gaining legal status or fully reentering society. “While the federal government continues to target immigrants and threatens to tear families apart with deportation, these actions take a critical step toward a more just, more fair and more compassionate New York,” Cuomo said in a statement. The state press release also quotes several representatives from open borders groups praising the governor’s pardons.
Among them is the president of a group dedicated to eradicating racial disparities in the criminal justice system, who commended Cuomo’s strong display of leadership. “Too many immigrants with prior criminal convictions are subjected to the gratuitous punishment of deportation, despite being longstanding contributing members of our community,” said the president of the Vera Institute of Justice. The director of the Center on Race, Inequality and the Law also applauded Cuomo, saying “deportation is an out-size punishment for prior criminal convictions when people serve their sentences and go on to become longstanding, law abiding, contributing members of society.”
Let’s look at a few of the newly pardoned immigrants. The Californians are two Cambodian men, Mony Neth of Modesto and Rottanak Kong of Davis, arrested in immigration sweeps a few months ago. The men, ages 42 and 39, came to the U.S. as children and were convicted of felonies as adults. The crimes include a weapons charge and association to a gang. Neth and Rottanak were scheduled to be deported in December along with dozens of other Cambodians convicted of crimes but a federal judge in southern California issued a temporary restraining order after their pro bono attorneys from a civil rights group filed an emergency motion. Nearly 2,000 Cambodians in the U.S. are subject to deportation, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) figures cited in a northern California newspaper. More than half of them have criminal convictions that stripped them of legal status.
The New York pardons include a 57-year-old Mexican transgender woman convicted of criminal facilitation, a 35-year-old man from Estonia convicted of larceny and a 53-year-old Dominican man convicted of criminal sale of a controlled substance. The Mexican national, Lorena Borjas, deserves to stay in the U.S. because she is a strong advocate for transgender and immigrant communities and runs HIV testing programs for transgender sex workers and a syringe exchange for transwomen taking hormone injections. The Estonian, Alexander Shilov, became a nurse and frequently gives talks on overcoming addiction. The Dominican, Freddy Perez, works as an electrician and takes care of his autistic younger brother. For these reasons, they deserve to remain in the U.S. despite their criminal histories, according to Cuomo.
This appears to be part of a broader effort by local governments to protect criminal immigrants from deportation. Months ago, Judicial Watch reportedthat prosecutors in two major U.S. cities ordered staff not to charge illegal immigrants with minor, non-violent crimes because it could get the offenders deported. Brooklyn, New York District Attorney Eric Gonzalez was the first to issue the order creating two sets of rules involving local crimes.
The goal, according to a statement issued by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, is “minimizing collateral immigration consequences of criminal convictions.” Taxpayers in the busy New York City borough are also paying for two immigration attorneys to train all staff on immigration issues and advise prosecutors when making plea offers and sentencing recommendations. The idea is to avoid “disproportionate collateral consequences, such as deportation, while maintaining public safety.” Gonzalez, the Brooklyn District Attorney, says he’s committed to equal and fair justice for all Brooklyn residents—citizens, lawful residents and undocumented immigrants alike.
A few weeks after Brooklyn proudly disclosed its policy, prosecutors in Maryland’s largest city joined the bandwagon, albeit more quietly. There was no public announcement or celebratory press conference but a local newspaper got ahold of an internal memo sent by Baltimore’s Chief Deputy State’s Attorney instructing prosecutors to think twice before charging illegal immigrants with minor, non-violent crimes.
The chief deputy, Michael Schatzow, used similar language in the memo, writing that the Trump administration’s deportation efforts “have increased the potential collateral consequences to certain immigrants of minor, non-violent criminal conduct.” Schatzow is second-in-command to Baltimore’s top prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby, and oversees major crimes at the state agency. “In considering the appropriate disposition of a minor, non-violent criminal case, please be certain to consider those potential consequences to the victim, witnesses, and the defendant,” Schatzow wrote to his staff.