ALBANY, NY --- Governor David A. Paterson has announced that he has issued pardons to six individuals who are subject to deportation as a result of prior criminal convictions, and has granted clemency to one individual who has demonstrated extraordinary rehabilitation during her 20 years of incarceration.
"The pardons I grant today address shortcomings in our Federal immigration laws relating to deportation," Governor Paterson said. "Our review of more than 1,100 pardon applications reveals that Federal immigration laws are often inflexible, arbitrarily applied, and excessively harsh, resulting in the deportation of individuals who have paid the price for their crimes and are now making positive contributions to our society. These pardons represent an attempt to achieve fairness and justice for deserving individuals caught in the web of these laws."
In May 2010, Governor Paterson convened a special Immigration Pardon Panel to gather information and recommend deserving individuals for pardons to assist them in avoiding deportation. The initiative was designed to address several aspects of the immigration laws that may result in inflexible and unjust decisions to remove legal immigrants from the United States, often tearing them away from their United States citizen children or spouse. One harshness of the Federal law results from retroactive changes made in the mid-1990s, whereby crimes that did not previously carry the consequence of deportation were made deportable. In many other cases, individuals previously had pled guilty without being aware that their plea might subject them to mandatory deportation. As a result, many individuals who were convicted many years ago are now facing deportation, often after they apply for citizenship or seek to renew their permanent resident status.
In many of these cases, the individual's efforts toward rehabilitation, their years of living a law-abiding life in the community and their positive contributions to society have not been considered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the decision to deport. In addition, individuals may be deported to a country they left as a child, where they now have no relatives, may not speak the language and have no place to live or means to support themselves. Significantly, deportation may tear them away from their families in the United States.
"That immigration officials do not credit rehabilitation, nor account for human suffering is adverse to the values that our country represents," Governor Paterson said. "I have selected cases that exemplify the values of New York State and that of a just society: atonement, forgiveness, compassion, realism, open arms, and not retribution, punitiveness and a refusal to acknowledge the worth of immigration. I will not turn my back on New Yorkers who enrich our lives and care for those who suffer."
The Governor continued: "The age of terror and disruption, with its accompanying anxieties, should not cause us to lose our way to justice. We punish transgression, but we are obliged to do it in balance and with fairness. We long ago decided not to exact retroactive penalties, nor be arbitrary and capricious in the application of universal standards. Yet the implementation of our immigration laws is random and often cruel. I stand against that."
The individuals who received pardons today are:
• Kevin Auyeung – At the age 17, Mr Auyeung, who immigrated to the United States from China at the age of 14, was convicted of robbery. While he was serving a 4-to-8-year prison term, his father went without breakfast for 3 months to buy him an introductory manual on computers and a Chinese-English dictionary. Inspired by his father's sacrifice, Mr. Auyeung earned his GED and eventually established his own cellular communications services company. Even though ICE was unable to obtain travel documents for Mr. Auyeung from China, and had earlier determined that it would be inhumane to deport him away from his only family, it placed him in immigration detention in 2006, during which time he lost his business. Today, Mr. Auyeung remains under immigration community supervision, and is subject to arrest at any time. Nonetheless, Mr. Auyeung has managed to maintain steady employment and has consistently volunteered as an interpreter for elderly persons in Chinatown. The full and unconditional pardon granted today should remove all grounds of deportability.
• Mario Benitez – In 1978, when he was 26 years old, Mr. Benitez immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic, and a few years later he served honorably in the United States Navy. In 1988, Mr. Benitez pled guilty to second-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and was sentenced to 8 years to life in prison. While in prison, Mr. Benitez was a "role model" inmate, who earned a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting and, upon release, began working at the City University of New York's (CUNY) Lehman College. After passing the CPA exam in 1997, he has risen to jobs with higher levels of responsibility, and today he is the Assistant Director of Finance for CUNY's Graduate School and University Center in charge of a budget in excess of $60 million. Mr. Benitez, who was discharged from parole supervision after only 3 years, has been involved in numerous community activities in the Bronx, including one-on-one youth mentoring. He is married and has 4 daughters, all of whom are United States citizens. Today's pardon will make him eligible to seek discretionary relief from deportation.
• Sanjay Broomfield – Mr. Broomfield entered the United States legally at the age of 18. In 2005, he was convicted of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree, a Class A misdemeanor, after he shot a career criminal who was breaking into his home in Suffolk County. While serving his 3-year probation term, Mr. Broomfield married a United States citizen, who is now expecting their first child. Mrs. Broomfield applied to adjust his status to lawful permanent resident. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) denied the application, because he "possessed an illegal weapon and someone died" – even though the District Attorney previously had concluded that the shooting was justified and did not charge him with that crime. "ICE may take no account of the New York State criminal justice decisions, but I do," Governor Paterson said. The pardon granted today will give Mr. Broomfield a basis to re-open the adjustment-of-status proceedings.
• Marlon Oscar Powell– Mr. Powell lawfully immigrated to this country from Jamaica in 1986, when he was 13 years old. When he was 15 years old, he was convicted of using a fake ID to gain admission to a club where he was arrested for misdemeanor drug possession and sentenced to 9 months in jail – under the mistaken belief that he was then 21 years old. Had Mr. Powell properly been considered a Youthful Offender, his misdemeanor crime would not be deportable. In the 20 years since his release, he has become a productive member of society, maintaining steady employment and supporting and raising his 4 young children. Mr. Powell is now in immigration detention in New Jersey and was recently ordered removed from the country. Today's pardon will give him a basis to re-open the removal proceedings and make him eligible to seek discretionary relief from removal.
• Darshini Ramsaran – At the age of 8, Ms. Ramsaran, who has dual citizenship in Guyana and Trinidad, was brought to this country on a visitor's visa, and her parents never sought to adjust her status. During her teenaged years she was the victim of repeated and awful physical abuse, which caused her deep psychological distress. She nonetheless testified against one of her abusers, who was convicted and deported to Guyana. When she was 21, she pled guilty to third-degree robbery for being the driver during a street robbery perpetrated by her then-boyfriend (who also had abused her) and two other men. Ms. Ramsaran cooperated with prosecutors and testified against one of the accomplices, as a result of which she remained in custody for over two years, even though she was sentenced to only 364 days in jail for her conviction. After her testimony, she immediately was detained by immigration officials, and has remained in such detention for well over a year. Ms. Ramsaran, who is represented by Sanctuary for Families, has filed a petition for a U-Visa, a type of visa that is available to non-citizens who cooperate in the investigation and prosecution of criminal activities against them. This pardon will assist her in obtaining such a visa, which is of significant importance because of the dangers Ms. Ramsaran would face if deported to her native Guyana or Trinidad, where the two men she testified against have threatened her and easily could subject her to further harm.
• Deborah Salako-Nation – Ms. Salako-Nation has been a lawful permanent resident of the United States since 1974, when she was 5 years old. She has been ordered deported to Nigeria as a result of three convictions from 1999 and 2000, for second-degree forgery (a class D felony), petit larceny (a class A misdemeanor) and third-degree forgery (a class A misdemeanor). In the decade since those convictions, Ms. Salako-Nation has worked steadily in order to support her college-age son and her 6-year-old autistic son. Like many legal immigrants, Ms. Salako-Nation was placed in removal proceedings after she applied for citizenship. She faces imminent deportation to Nigeria, a country with which she has no ties, since her parents and siblings are all citizens of the United States. Her deportation would be devastating for her autistic son, who relies on her for his medical and educational needs; many of these services would not be available in Nigeria were she to take him with her. Today's pardon should remove all barriers to her seeking cancellation of removal.
Additionally, Governor Paterson today announced that he has granted clemency to June Benson, who demonstrated extraordinary rehabilitation during her 20 years of incarceration for a crime committed when she was addicted to drugs.
June Benson has experienced nearly twenty years imprisonment in consequence of being an accessory to the crime of rape. She was addicted to crack cocaine and other drugs at the time of the crime, had no independence of judgment, serving only her addiction. She chose that over civility and compassion. When confronted with the opportunity to assist rather than hurt someone who was being victimized, she chose to contribute to the victim's suffering, rather than to alleviate it. For that she lost her youth and her independence.
"But I believe she has been punished sufficiently," Governor Paterson said. "Drug addiction is a scourge and a heinous, self-inflicted disease. In the 1970s this State decided to punish those who were trapped by drugs with long prison terms. This prison sentence has served its purpose. It is time to heal and to recognize that drug addiction has a medical dimension for which incarceration is a blunt antidote. Ms. Benson has conquered her demons. She has paid an awful price. She has shown the resilience of a striving soul. She has beautiful children, a record of achievement, and very strong evidence of rehabilitation. She deserves clemency."
Ms. Benson, 44, was sentenced on September 1, 1992, to a term of 27 ½ to 55 years in prison, which she began serving in September 1992. She has participated in a variety of programs while in prison, including treatment and counseling, and has earned her GED and a Bachelor's Degree. Ms. Benson also has been active in programs that assist other inmates, including programs which help children stay connected with their incarcerated mothers. Ms. Benson's application has received support from numerous individuals who have worked with her while she has been incarcerated, including a number of Correction Officers, and the Parole Board.
"June Benson has taken advantage of every opportunity she has been presented while in prison to achieve an education and to assist other prisoners and their families," Governor Paterson said.
The Governor's action has allowed Benson to appear before the Parole Board for parole release and the Board has set reasonable terms and conditions of parole supervision. Benson may be returned to prison if she violates the terms of her parole.
This is the first announcement of pardons granted under the special Immigration Pardon Panel process created by the Governor earlier this year. An additional announcement may be made at a future date.