New York Gov. David Paterson is appointing a panel to review pardon requests from legal residents facing mandatory deportation for minor or old crimes. As I noted in a column last month, legislation Congress passed in 1996 made longtime residents subject to deportation as "aggravated felons" for trivial offenses, including marijuana possession. In such cases, the only recourse is to erase the conviction via a pardon. "Some of our immigration laws, particularly with respect to deportation, are embarrassingly and wrongly inflexible," Paterson said yesterday. "In New York, we believe in rehabilitation." Here is the reaction from the Department of Homeland Security:
DHS continues to focus on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes criminal aliens who present the greatest risk to the security of our communities. At the same time, we are applying common sense and using discretion on a case-by-case basis to ensure that our enforcement is meeting our priorities.
The department's smart, effective immigration enforcement has led to commonsensical uses of discretion such as the three-year detention of Jerry Lemaine, a legal immigrant from Haiti who has lived in this country since he was 3. What was the risk Lemaine presented to the security of our communities? He was caught with small amounts of pot a couple of times. Now free but still vulnerable to deportation, he would be a good candidate for one of Paterson's pardons.