ICE Ignores State Pardons In Connecticut
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Imagine you've been fully pardoned of your crimes but get punished for them anyway. That's what's happening in Connecticut, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement is trying to deport a legal permanent resident even though her record has been cleared. As Connecticut Public Radio's Diane Orson reports, the attorney general there is fighting in court to force the federal government to recognize the state's pardons.
DIANE ORSON, BYLINE: When she was 4 years old, Wayzaro Walton's mother brought her from England to Connecticut, where she's lived as a legal permanent resident. Then, during her turbulent teens, Walton got caught shoplifting and conspiring to steal more.
WAYZARO WALTON: I, you know, did the crime. But I also - was years ago, when I was much younger.
ORSON: Walton is speaking from an ICE detention center in Boston. She's there even though she's been fully pardoned by the state of Connecticut for her crimes.
WALTON: I had to get letters from people, like, saying my character and whatnot. I mean, you know, anybody doesn't just get a pardon. You have to be free of crime for a period of time.
ORSON: When she got word in January that she'd likely be granted a full and unconditional state pardon, Walton says she thought it would mean she wouldn't be deported for violating the terms of her green card. She'd be able to move on with her life, get a better job and do better for her family. But paperwork for the pardon didn't come through till March, one day after she was picked up by ICE.
WALTON: And then, being detained right after that, it, you know, was devastating. Like, what's going on? Like, why is this happening?
WILLIAM TONG: It does surprise me for a number of reasons.
ORSON: Connecticut attorney general William Tong says, before, ICE always recognized Connecticut's pardons.
TONG: And under federal immigration law, if you receive a full, absolute and unconditional pardon from your state, you are entitled to an automatic waiver of deportation.
ORSON: The federal government says it's just following the letter of the law. At a court hearing in Boston earlier this summer, Justice Department attorney Jessica Burns pointed to the exact language of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JESSICA BURNS: We are interpreting the pardon waiver, which is part of the INA, which specifically limits pardons to pardons by the governor or president of the United States.
ORSON: But that's not how pardons work in Connecticut. Here, the governor delegates authority to a Board of Pardons and Paroles. And Connecticut is not unique. Governors in six states delegate pardon power to a board.
TONG: And so my question as the attorney general is why are you treating Connecticut different than places like Georgia?
ORSON: Again, William Tong.
TONG: I hope that it's not a partisan basis, but it sure feels that way.
ORSON: Connecticut's immigration policies are more liberal than Georgia's. In fact, Connecticut just passed one of the nation's most restrictive laws limiting when law enforcement can cooperate with ICE. Attorney Heather Prendergast of the American Immigration Lawyers Association says that may be part of the reason that ICE is honoring Georgia's state pardons and not Connecticut's.
HEATHER PRENDERGAST: The only difference that I can see, as someone who's not at the agency, is that one state has policies that are arguably very favorable to ICE's position, whereas the other state does not.
WALTON: I don't see what the difference would be in this state.
ORSON: Wayzaro Walton remains in an ICE detention facility.
WALTON: It's America, you know, so I figured every state would follow the same process.
ORSON: A federal court in New York City hears arguments in her case on Tuesday. The case is being closely watched because it could affect other immigrants facing deportation. For NPR News, I'm Diane Orson in New Haven. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.