CA immigrant pardons spike conflict with federal government
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California Governor Jerry Brown recently issued pardons to five convicted criminals in danger of deportation and commuted the sentences of 14 others found guilty by courts. In total, he has now given 1,519 pardons. In California, such legal action by the courts as well as elected officials, is not too unusual. The state freed more than 30,000 prisoners before their appointed release dates in 2011 because the Supreme Court of the United States judged California prisons as inhumanely overcrowded. Gov. Brown has described previous pardons as acts of mercy.
These recent pardons include two Cambodian men variously convicted of domestic violence, drug possession and obstructing a police officer. In December, the governor pardoned two more Cambodians in legal troubles related to stealing a vehicle, gang involvement, illegal possession of weaponry, and receiving stolen property.
Historically, the sovereign state of Cambodia has not wanted to repatriate convicted felons but the country has become more receptive after the State Department withheld visas for top Cambodian officials in September. The latest round of pardons also covered a Chinese man known to the law for kidnapping and robbery along with carrying a weapon after a felony conviction.
Such actions mark a continuing dispute between the Californian government and the president. Taking to Twitter, the president enumerated the misdeeds of the pardoned men and insulted the governor, saying that “Governor Jerry ‘Moonbeam’ Brown pardoned 5 criminal illegal aliens whose crimes include (1) Kidnapping and Robbery (2) Badly beating wife and threatening a crime with intent to terrorize (3) Dealing drugs. Is this really what the great people of California want?” For his part, Brown has signed legislation to hinder state officials interacting with federal immigration authorities while accusing the president of “going to war” over the issue.
The Cambodians in question actually have permanent legal U.S. residency, but the State Department has authority to revoke this status and deport criminals. Thus, the governor's pardons create a somewhat ambiguous situation. Specifically, the pardon relates to the sentences and legal record for the crime, but deportation does not itself count as legal punishment. So, the State Department can deport felons but it cannot deport people for committing felonies. The men facing deportation had lost all legal recourse, but they may now make new pleas to immigration judges based on this ambiguity.
In March, the federal government began a lawsuit to crush California's sanctuary laws. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra tweeted his defiance: “#California will stay the course and enforce all our laws and protect all our people.”