New York moves in the right direction

Gov. David A. Paterson announced on Monday that he would accelerate consideration and granting of pardons to legal immigrants for old or minor criminal convictions, in an effort to prevent them from being deported. “Some of our immigration laws, particularly with respect to deportation, are embarrassingly and wrongly inflexible,” Mr. Paterson said in a speech on Monday. “In New York we believe in renewal,” he added. “In New York, we believe in rehabilitation.”

Federal immigration laws enacted in 1996 greatly expanded the categories of legal immigrants subject to mandatory deportation as “aggravated felons,” including people who had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor drug possession. Stepped-up enforcement, huge new criminal databases and expanded use of detention are resulting in deportation proceedings against more people with old convictions, while immigration judges have no discretion to consider their individual cases. Only a governor’s pardon can prevent deportation in such cases, even when the legal immigrant is married to a United States citizen and has citizen children.

“This is huge,” said Bryan Lonegan, a veteran immigration lawyer who is an expert on the immigration consequences of criminal convictions. “So many legal permanent residents are being arrested and detained based on trivial convictions — the guy being deported for swiping a MetroCard when he fell on hard times, people with minor marijuana convictions, people who shoplifted in a moment of weakness,” he added.

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