Paterson Panel Considers Pardons for Legal Immigrants Facing Deportation
New York Gov. David Paterson’s (D) office is sifting through thousands of applications by detainees awaiting deportation who hope to be pardoned by the governor, hurrying to make pardon recommendations before Paterson’s term ends on Dec. 31, The New York Times reports. The pardon initiative only applies to legal permanent residents who face deportation because they have committed a misdemeanor or felony. Still, as the federal government doubles down on immigration enforcement, the pardon panel, appointed by Paterson, points out what the governor sees as a problem with the current system: its lack of discretion.
The applicants for pardons have all been convicted of crimes, but were allowed to apply to the governor’s office to explain why they should stay in the country. Most mentioned in the Times piece had served prison sentences for their crimes, some of which were committed when they were teens. The idea behind the panel is to allow relief from the “extremely inflexible” federal law for green card holders “who have contributed as New Yorkers and who deserve relief from deportation or indefinite detention,” Paterson said when he announced its creation in May.
Critics of the immigration court system argue judges have too little discretion due to laws that mandate deportation for certain crimes. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which Congress passed in 1996, substantially tightened the rules regarding legal immigrants, who can lose their legal status if convicted of crimes. As immigration courts face record backlogs due to the high number of immigrants in detention, the American Bar Association claims judges are treated “like they are on a treadmill,” constantly cycling through the same types of cases.
While Paterson’s pardon panels would not change the way immigration courts are run, the effort is arguably a push to add a bit of discretion back into the system. This doesn’t mean less uncertainty for applicants, though: The Times reports that Paterson has not said how many pardons he expects to give or what criteria the panel will consider in its decisions.