Pardons: The New Strategy to Avoid Deportation

Even legal immigrants with low-level crimes on their records are being deported. Is that justice?

The Trump administration is following through on its promise to faithfully execute immigration laws, but the new aggressive-style enforcement is raising some concerns about people who live here, even legally, who could be deported for minor criminal offenses.

The Obama administration deported a great number of illegal aliens, but only prioritized deporting those who had serious criminal offenses. The Trump administration has cast the net much wider, and is emphasizing deporting those with almost any level of criminal conviction.

Those who are here legally with low-level criminal offenses, like misdemeanors and such, are coming under scrutiny by immigration officials. That's causing some state officials to consider ways to prevent their legal residents from being deported for such convictions.

One of these methods is through pardons from the governor, which removes the criminal record and, as the logic goes, the reason for deportation. As the Los Angeles Times reports, this strategy is pitting the states against the federal government.

Two Cambodian refugees living in Northern California had been convicted of crimes years ago and, under the Trump administration’s more aggressive immigration enforcement policies, those offenses had placed them on a path toward deportation.

But on Saturday, Gov. Jerry Brown announced the pardons of both men — Mony Neth of Modesto and Rottanak Kong of Davis — saying they had paid their debts to society and now lived honest and upright lives.

Other governors have been making considerations like this as well, including Republican Govs. Rick Snyder of Michigan and Bruce Rauner of Illinois, and Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia.

This year, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, pardoned Liliana Cruz Mendez, a mother of two who lived in the suburbs outside Washington. Cruz Mendez, who was in the country illegally from El Salvador, was stopped for a minor traffic infraction in 2014; her car had a blown-out headlight.

George Escobar, senior director at CASA — an immigrant rights group in the Washington area — called McAuliffe’s pardon “a show of solidarity for her cause and the belief she should not have to leave this country.”

Cruz Mendez, an illegal immigrant, was deported back in the summer in spite of the pardon for the traffic offense. There may be justifiable claim behind that, but the Trump administration's targeting of legal immigrants with equal vigor as illegal aliens seems a bit problematic.

While those who come here illegally are in a category more deserving of deportation (except perhaps in extreme circumstances like asylum seekers), deporting those who have minor crimes on their record is a step too far.

Like the LA Times notes, some of these immigrants, legal ones, have made mistakes while here, but those mistakes shouldn’t necessarily be cause for completely uprooting them from their new lives in the United States.

For very high level crimes, like murder, rape, abduction, trafficking, even a legal person should be considered eligible for deportation; but for things like traffic-related offenses, such punishment is not proportionate to the crime.

State governors issuing pardons to these people is certainly one viable option to avoid deportation. However, a potential problem that arises from this "work-around" is a general lawlessness and inconsistency with respect to the treatment of immigrants.

For example, crimes that need to be appropriately prosecuted may not be if state governments want a lever to fight the feds' immigration agenda. That's the kind of random application of law that many of these people fled.

This is a nation of laws, and if someone commits a crime, the offender needs to face appropriate justice.

But the operative term there is "appropriate," and it seems the Trump administration's reaching too far will cause far greater reaction than is helpful for dealing with complex immigration policies.

What do you think? Should state governors grant pardons so immigrants, even legal ones, avoid deportation, or does something else need to change? Share your thoughts.

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