Last May, New York Gov. David Paterson established the country’s first state-level pardon panels to investigate the cases of legal immigrants facing deportation because of old and often minor crimes. Under the Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), a law that was applied retroactively, even minor infractions like shoplifting can trigger deportation. The law also removed power of discretion from immigration judges. As The Journal of Legislation outlines, "the IIRIRA forces judges to re-characterize misdemeanors and non-aggravated felonies as aggravated felonies solely for immigration purposes." The result of IIRIRA has been cases like Mike Burrows’s, a 50-year permanent resident of California who faces imminent deportation to Canada for agreeing to receive a stolen tape-deck worth $50 at the time more than 30 years ago. Mr. Burrows has more than paid for his misdemeanor and in the several decades since has proven himself a loving father, productive resident, and hard worker. More than 1,000 people across the country wrote letters to former Gov. Shwarzenneger requesting he be pardoned, his only hope in staying in California with his family. Deporting a non-violent, contributing legal resident who poses no danger to society is a waste of tax-payer money and a great burden on the many families who are split up or forced to move to another country to stay together. You have the power to establish discretionary panels that can evaluate cases such as that one and stop the deportations of immigrants who committed minor crimes a long time ago and demonstrate they are not a danger to society. Urge California governor Jerry Brown to do what is morally and sensibly right, and follow in Gov. Paterson’s footsteps.
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