ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) – Rebuking the Trump administration’s hard-line stance on immigration, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo pardoned 18 immigrants who faced deportation, including a transgender community activist.
Cuomo granted clemency to 61 people on Wednesday, including pardons for the 18 immigrants and 39 others who committed misdemeanors or nonviolent crimes when they were underage and have been crime-free for 10 years.
"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,” the governor said in a statement.
Among the pardoned immigrants is 57-year-old Lorena Borjas, a transgender woman from Mexico who was convicted of misdemeanor criminal facilitation in 1994 as a result of being entrapped as a human-trafficking victim.
She has since become a grassroots advocate for transgender, HIV-positive and immigrant communities in Queens. Borjas’ pardon request was endorsed by several elected officials, including New York City Public Advocate Letitia James.
Through the Lorena Borjas Community Fund, which she started in 2012, Borjas has raised over $20,000 in bond money to secure clients’ release from unsafe detention centers.
Alisa Wellek, executive director of the Immigrant Defense Project, celebrated Cuomo’s pardons.
“In granting these pardons, the governor is also sending a signal of hope to the immigrant community, which has faced a difficult year of fear mongering and threats, that New York will continue to stand for freedom, human rights, and redemption,” Wellek said in a statement.
The Immigrant Defense Project, which has been monitoring Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests in New York, says there has been a 900 percent increase in reports of arrests or attempted arrests of immigrants at New York courthouses, jumping from 11 statewide in 2016 to 110 so far in 2017 – including 78 in New York City alone.
Immigrant advocates worry that these ICE arrests could have a chilling effect on immigrants reporting crimes and making courthouse appearances.
In August, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez called for an end to immigration sweeps in and around state courthouses, asking ICE to treat courthouses as “sensitive locations” like it treats schools and churches.
The Immigrant Defense Project claims that ICE, emboldened by President Donald Trump, has expanded arrests to include immigrants with no prior criminal history.
Seymour James, attorney-in-chief of The Legal Aid Society, called Cuomo’s immigrant pardons a “humanitarian measure.”
“These pardons will give a well-deserved second chance to immigrants at imminent risk of deportation,” James said in a statement. “It is critical that New York continue to do all it can to combat the fear and hate generated by bad federal policies and give relief to those who need it most.”
Cuomo also granted pardons to 39 New Yorkers who were convicted of nonviolent crimes as teens. The pardons are intended to remove barriers to employment posed by their prior convictions.
While Cuomo’s pardons went to nonviolent offenders, the governor also commuted the sentence of Dominic Dupont, a 39-year-old Brooklyn native who has served 20 years of a 25-years-to-life sentence for murder and criminal possession of a weapon.
Dupont is a nephew of actor Michael K. Williams, known for his roles as Omar in “The Wire” and Chalky White in “Boardwalk Empire,” both on HBO.
Dupont will reportedly return to Brooklyn and continue his work as an at-risk youth counselor.
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