Governors have the power
Pardons are an untapped power that can protect certain immigrants from deportation and open up a pathway to citizenship.
Under our harsh immigration laws, punishment for immigrants with a conviction never ends. Immigrants, including greencard holders, can be deported for a past conviction even when it is decades old. The convictions that can get someone deported range from felonies to misdemeanors like shoplifting and marijuana possession.
Governors have the ability to correct the injustices of an immigration and criminal legal system that overcriminalizes immigrants and communities of color. They have the power to show mercy for past offenses and end excessive punishments. For immigrants who face deportation because of a past offense, a pardon may be their only protection from exile. For some, a pardon may also clear the path to citizenship.
Governors can also use their power to commute, or shorten, a sentence to protect immigrants from deportation. In some cases, shortening a sentence by just one day could mean the difference between staying in the U.S. and getting deported.
Ask your Governor to pick up their pardon pen, and take a stand against Trump today.
For more information, see our Frequently Asked Questions.
Pardon: The Immigrant Clemency Project is an initiative of the Immigrant Defense Project (IDP) that aims to protect immigrants and to push back against policies that disempower and marginalize people with criminal histories. Under the Trump administration, there are currently thousands of immigrants at risk of deportation because of past criminal convictions. For many individuals, a pardon is their only protection from deportation.
The project launched in New York as PardonNY, a pilot campaign in partnership with The Fortune Society, New Sanctuary Coalition, SEIU 32BJ, Legal Aid Society of Nassau County, New York Immigration Coalition, Make the Road New York, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, Brooklyn Defender Services; the immigration clinics at Brooklyn Law School, CUNY Law School, and Cardozo School of Law; and with pro bono support from the law firms of Orrick, WilmerHale, and Gibson Dunn.
The Immigrant Defense Project (IDP) is nationally known for its expertise in the intersection of criminal and immigration law. IDP provides technical assistance and training to attorneys on the pardon application process for immigrants and has secured pardons for immigrants with criminal convictions in several states.
IDP is partnering with The Fortune Society (Fortune) to screen potential applicants on the PardonNY hotline. Since 1967, The Fortune Society has served as a resource to address the complex and overlapping needs of individuals released from incarceration. Fortune’s David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP) works to build equitable legal systems and alternative approaches to justice, change counterproductive laws and policies, advance effective program models, and shift public perception.
If you are interested in applying for a pardon, or if you are interested in finding out how you can support the project, please fill out the contact form below.
A Pardon Can Make
Alvaro “Khalil” Cumberbatch
On December 31, 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo granted a pardon to Alvaro “Khalil” Cumberbatch, affirming that people should not have to bear the consequences of a criminal conviction for life.
Khalil is a long-time lawful permanent resident who was a leader in the re-entry community when he was targeted by ICE. Khalil faced mandatory detention and deportation due to a single conviction that was more than a decade old. After a months long campaign supported by IDP, the Fortune Society, and other high profile re-entry organizations, Governor Cuomo granted Khalil a pardon, granting him a crucial pathway to stability and security.
Khalil’s nightmarish journey through our inhumane immigration system began in the early morning hours of May 8th. Khalil and his wife had just awoken and were getting their two young daughters ready for school when armed ICE agents banged on the door. They handcuffed Khalil in front of his children and made false promises that he would return home that evening. Then, ICE agents took him to an immigration jail where he was locked up for the next six months.
ICE targeted Khalil after he had spent years transforming himself into a leader in the re-entry community. While incarcerated for a crime he committed at 18, Khalil became a peer counselor on HIV awareness. After his release, he earned a college degree and dedicated himself to mentoring young men like himself as a counselor for the College Initiative. When ICE came knocking, he was just two weeks away from earning his master’s degree in social work.
A strong partnership was forged to win Khalil’s release from detention and subsequent pardon. IDP mobilized leaders from the re-entry, criminal justice and education communities to support the request that he be released from detention and that the government close his deportation case. After IDP’s relentless advocacy, ICE released Khalil from detention in October 2014, administratively closing his case. Two months later, Governor Cuomo granted his request for a pardon, opening up the opportunity for Khalil to be eligible for U.S. citizenship.
California Governor Jerry Brown is Fighting Trump with Pardons. Will Other Governors Follow Suit? (The Appeal, 11/29/2018)
This non-profit organization helps immigrants in danger of deportation apply for pardons / Esta organización sin fines de lucro ayuda a inmigrantes en peligro de deportación a obtener el indulto (Univision, 10/29/18)
In Rebuke to Trump, Cuomo Pardons 18 Immigrants (December 27, 2017)
Frequently Asked Questions
How can a gubernatorial pardon help protect noncitizens from detention and deportation?
A gubernatorial pardon for any type of conviction could help a noncitizen in a variety of ways. In some cases, a full and unconditional pardon can eliminate the grounds for deportation completely and eliminate the permanent bar to citizenship. This will most impact those who have lawful status, such as green card holders. For those who have a conviction that cannot be fully waived by a pardon for immigration purposes, a pardon could create the possibility of eligibility for immigration relief for someone who otherwise would be subject to mandatory deportation. While the benefits are less clear for undocumented individuals, a pardon is a favorable factor that may influence federal immigration authorities not to initiate removal proceedings.
What types of convictions will a governor’s pardon impact the most?
A subsection of the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) establishing grounds of deportability provides that a full and unconditional governor’s pardon waives deportability for four categories of offenses:
Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT) conviction
Multiple CIMT convictions
“Aggravated felony” conviction
Conviction for high speed flight from an immigration checkpoint
What kinds of New York offenses are included in these categories?
These categories are immigration law terms that cover a broad variety of offenses. The federal government routinely charges many common New York offenses as CIMTs, such as petty theft, theft of services (i.e. turnstyle jumping), possession of stolen property, and trademark counterfeiting (i.e. selling unlicensed handbags). “Aggravated felony” convictions need be neither “aggravated” nor “felonies” and lead to mandatory detention and deportation. For example, the federal government routinely charges misdemeanor sale of marijuana and misdemeanor theft offenses as “aggravated felonies”.
Will a gubernatorial pardon help someone with an offense not listed above, such as a controlled substance offense?
It depends. Courts have found that a state pardon will not prevent deportation for an individual whose conviction also falls under a deportation ground not listed above, most notably a conviction that may be deemed a controlled substance, firearm, domestic violence, or child abuse offense. However, if the offense is also considered an “aggravated felony,” which is the case for many controlled substance offenses, a pardon may prevent mandatory deportation and leave the person eligible for discretionary relief from an immigration judge.
Can an immigration judge just decide to ignore a gubernatorial pardon?
No. A full and unconditional gubernatorial pardon waives the categories of offenses discussed above as a matter of law, and the person should not be deported based on the offense. However, if the offense falls into one of the non-covered deportation grounds, deportation may rest on a discretionary decision of the immigration judge if the person is eligible for immigration relief.
How could the governor pardon people quickly enough to help their immigration cases while ensuring public safety?
The governor could initiate a fast-track presumptive pardon process for individuals who meet certain criteria. This could be based on length of time since the offense and/or include cover categories of offenses. Other applications could be determined on a case-by-case basis. While those in removal proceedings will have the most time-sensitive applications, one benefit of the pardon is that individuals can apply before they are ever put in proceedings and may be able to avoid becoming a target of detention and deportation in the first place.
How will people find out about the pardon and apply?
Immigrant Defense Project will work through our hotlines and with our partners in the reentry community, community based organizations, legal service and public defender offices, law firms, and law school clinics to screen individuals, assess the immigration impact of a pardon, and assist in submitting applications. While numbers are difficult to estimate and depend on the contours of the program, we expect that thousands of New Yorkers could be protected.
For questions or further discussion, please contact Jane Shim, Advocacy Staff Attorney, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 646-797-3491.
 Immigration and Nationality Act § 237(a)(2)(A)(vi), 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(A)(vi) (2008).
 See, e.g., Matter of Suh, 23 I. & N. Dec. 626 (BIA 2003) (child abuse offense); Eskite v. District Director, 901 F.Supp. 530 (E.D.N.Y. 1995) (drug offense).
This toolkit was generated based on the insights and experience of IDP and legal service providers who have represented and advocated for pardon applicants in New York. It includes a legal primer on the possible benefits of a pardon and eligibility factors, as well as guidance on compiling a strong pardon application. We hope this is a useful resource for applicants and advocates looking to protect immigrant communities against draconian federal immigration laws.
Community Outreach Flyer
Contact pardon[at]immdefense.org if you would like to collaborate on community outreach for the pardon campaign.
IDP wishes to thank the New York Community Trust for their leadership and support on this issue, and to thank the Ford Foundation, Libra Foundation, Kaplan Fund, Four Freedoms Fund, and Revson Foundation for their ongoing support of IDP’s work.