Originally Published by The New York Times.
By John Leland
Dec. 31, 2018
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo took aim at President Trump’s immigration policies on Monday, issuing pardons to 22 immigrants who were at risk of deportation or blocked from citizenship because of criminal convictions.
The governor also commuted the sentences of seven people currently incarcerated.
“While President Trump shuts down the federal government over his obsession with keeping immigrants out, New York stands strong in our support for immigrant communities,” Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a statement. “These actions will help keep immigrant families together and take a critical step toward a more just, more fair and more compassionate New York.”
Immigration has become a key theme in Mr. Cuomo’s annual clemency grants, responding to what he has called “a war on our immigrant communities” by the Trump administration.
Monday’s announcement comes a day before Mr. Cuomo is scheduled to be sworn in for a third term as governor of New York in a symbolic ceremony on Ellis Island, the historic point of entry for immigrants to the United States.
This summer, he pardoned eight immigrants who faced deportation as a result of convictions for relatively minor crimes.
Mr. Trump has made limiting immigration a prime focus of his presidency, and he is currently locked in a showdown with Democratsover his desire to include funding for a southern border wall in the federal budget. The resulting government shutdown has stretched into its 10th day.
This year’s high number of pardons contrasts with Mr. Cuomo’s first years in office, when he issued very few, said JoAnne Page, president and chief executive of the Fortune Society, a nonprofit group that helps formerly incarcerated people re-enter society. A Times editorial after his 2013 announcement lamented “Governor Cuomo’s Stingy Pardons.” That year he issued only two.
“It’s nice to be able to recognize improvement,” Ms. Page said.
She added: “These are life-changing decisions. Even a conviction for a minor offense years ago can tear someone’s life up by the roots and destroy their families.”
In 2015 the governor created an executive clemency board to identify and receive applications for viable candidates, with mixed results, said Steve Zeidman, a professor and director of the criminal defense clinic at the City University of New York School of Law.
“It was really trailblazing,” Mr. Zeidman said.
But last year Mr. Cuomo commuted only two sentences for people still in prison. “It’s a weighty decision, but I’ve met hundreds of people who deserve it,” Mr. Zeidman said. He recommended legislation requiring a “second look” at every sentence after a person served 15 years.
And this summer Mr. Cuomo was criticized after some of the people who received conditional pardons were arrested for new crimes.
Those pardoned on Monday range in age from 33 to 75, and were mostly convicted on nonviolent drug crimes. The youngest, Kerrone Kay-Marie Parks, was convicted of possession of a controlled substance in Queens in 2013.
The recipients of Mr. Cuomo’s commutations included Roy Bolus, 49, who was sentenced to 75 years to life for his secondary role in a drug deal that ended in the deaths of two men. Mr. Bolus is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in prison.
Mr. Zeidman, who helped Mr. Bolus and two others with their successful applications, said of Mr. Bolus, “You meet him and say, ‘Why is this man in prison after 30 years for a crime he committed when he was 18?’”
He added, “It’s a good way to start the year. These are wonderful people. There are more people who will be productive on the outside.”
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