NY governor’s 9/11 worker pardon unlikely to spark a trend

In this Jan. 8, 2001 file photo, a rescue worker wearing a dust mask, peers through a cloud of dust created by an excavator at the World Trade Center site in New York. The New York governor's pardon of Carlos Cardona for a 1990 drug conviction is the latest example of politicians trying to rescue individuals from their immigration problems. Cardona worked on the World Trade Center recovery operation after the 2001 terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York governor’s pardon of a World Trade Center disaster worker fighting deportation to Colombia after a drug conviction is the latest example of politicians trying to rescue individuals from their immigration problems, but the mixed and unpredictable results make it unlikely to become a common occurrence.

Carlos Cardona had his 1990 drug conviction wiped off the books by Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week, improving the Queens man’s chances of remaining in the U.S. while he receives health treatments for ailments linked to his work on the Sept. 11, 2001, recovery effort.

His case follows several other recent instances when Democratic governors have pardoned individuals facing deportation for state crimes that sometimes occurred years earlier. The pardons have come after President Donald Trump ordered increased deportations, resulting in a boost of over 35 percent in his first 100 days in office when compared to the same period last year.

“It works some of the time,” said Jason A. Cade, a University of Georgia School of Law professor who has studied how the practice has evolved over the last century. “It is a way to avert what might be unfair deportations in certain cases.”

It did not work after Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe pardoned Liliana Cruz Mendez for a minor driving offense after she was detained by immigration agents when she arrived May 18 for a regular check-in. The Falls Church, Virginia, mother of two was sent back to her native El Salvador anyway.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, hoping to stop a deportation, pardoned a Cuban immigrant, Rene Lima-Marin, last month for an armed robbery he committed 19 years ago.

Cade said changes by Congress in the 1990s pertaining to when pardons can excuse drug offenses for immigration purposes created “a lot of weirdness” so that pardons sometimes are effective for more serious drug crimes but not for lesser offenses.

Recently, a Massachusetts judge dropped the criminal case against a man caught smoking marijuana at a national seashore so he could still get his green card, said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a research organization that argues that lower levels of immigration are better for the country.

In addition to pardons by governors, some prosecutors are thinking twice before filing charges that might result in deportation, raising the risk that a “parallel system of justice emerges where it is different for non-citizens.”

“When a few people are able to get exemptions like this, the number who ask for them grows,” she said.

Vaughan said the power to pardon is meant to be used sparingly for exceptional cases, which is one reason why some states do not let governors make a decision to pardon alone.

She said most of the 12 million people in the country illegally are “decent people” and many are using the extensive due process afforded by the U.S. immigration system to gain legal residency. To speed and ease the process for a few is a “slap in the face for those who wait their time, pay their dues,” Vaughan said.

“It’s really very controversial and not very admirable,” she added.

Kim Bobo, executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, said fear has gripped hold of immigrant communities and there should be a lot more pardons, especially when people get arrested for offenses like failing to have a driver’s license, a common affliction for those living in the country illegally.

“It’s a scary time for immigrants,” she said.

Andrew Novak, a professor at George Mason University, said he believes there should be more pardons, though governors face potential political backlash.

“It’s sparingly granted because it’s subject to political misuse,” he said. “It’s fraught with political considerations. And governors, I think, are sensitive to being seen as soft on undocumented immigration.”

Still, he added, governors might find it a political benefit in some states.

“Many Americans, especially in liberal states, perceive the immigration laws as being unfair in general,” Novak said.

In Cardona’s case, Cuomo said in a statement that he hoped the pardon would show the state is “taking a major step forward in protecting the hardworking immigrants who contribute to our economy and move New York forward.”

“In the face of this heartless and wrongheaded federal policy, the state will continue to hold the torch high and advance its legacy of hope, inclusion and opportunity,” he said.

Cardona’s wife, Liliana, said her husband’s health would likely suffer if he was deported to Colombia, where he won’t have health insurance or a good economic situation.

“It’s very sad to think that the government is not going to help him after he acted with courage and solidarity with the people of this country,” she said.

She said the governor’s pardon has given them hope that he can stay, though he remains detained by immigration authorities.

“Even though for years he paid lawyers and tried to correct that mistake and clean his image, he could not do it, and now, with God’s help and the help of the governor, he has accomplished that dream of not having that problem,” she said.