Amid a brewing legal battle with the Trump administration over California’s liberal immigration policies, Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday granted pre-Easter pardons to five immigrants facing possible deportation.
They were among 56 pardons and 14 commutations that the Democratic governor handed down ahead of the Sunday holiday. The majority were convicted of drug-related or other nonviolent crimes, according to Brown’s office.
Executive clemency is particularly significant for immigrants, since they can be deported for old convictions, even if they have legal resident status. By forgiving their criminal records, Brown eliminates the grounds on which they could be targeted for removal from the country.
“These are individuals who have turned their lives around and deserve a second chance,” said UCLA School of Law Professor Ingrid Early, who represents two of the immigrants pardoned Friday. She added that the stakes are higher since the election of President Donald Trump, who has emphasized stricter immigration enforcement.
“Under the current administration, there’s much more of a focus on deportation. More individuals are being picked up and placed into deportation proceedings,” Early said. “There’s also less discretion being exercised by immigration agents on the ground and by immigration prosecutors.”
The pardoned immigrants are:
* Sergio Mena, who was sentenced in 2003 for possession of a controlled substance for sale and served three years probation.
* Francisco Acevedo Alaniz, who was convicted for vehicle theft in 1997 and served fives months in prison and 13 months probation.
* Daniel Maher, who was sentenced in 1995 for kidnapping, robbery and using a firearm. He served five years in prison and three years on parole.
* Phann Pheach, who was convicted in 2005 for possession of a controlled substance for sale and obstructing a police officer. He served six months in prison and 13 months on parole.
* Sokha Chhan, who was sentenced in 2002 for inflicting corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant and threatening a crime with the intent to terrorize. He served three years probation and 364 days in jail.
Immigration has been at the center of a political showdown between California and the Trump administration. Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed suit against California for three new laws passed last year to protect immigrants living in California illegally.
Brown slammed Sessions for “initiating a reign of terror” against immigrants in California and accused the federal government of “basically going to war” against the state. Days later, Trump visited California for the first time as president and dismissed the state as “totally out of control.”
During the past year, as federal immigration authorities have escalated their enforcement efforts, Brown has regularly included immigrants in his annual Easter and Christmas acts of clemency.
Before Christmas, Brown pardoned two Northern California men who came to the United States as children when their families fled Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime. They were on the verge of being deported for decades-old felony charges.
He granted pardons last Easter to three men who served in the U.S. military but were deported to Mexico after serving sentences for crimes ranging from burglary to animal cruelty.
One of those men, Hector Barajas, was granted citizenship this week, while another, Marco Chavez, returned to the United States in December. Those developments were made possible by Brown’s pardon.
Individuals who have completed their sentence, lived crime-free for a decade and received a court-issued certificate of rehabilitation can apply for a pardon. The potential benefits include being able to own a gun or serve on juries.
Brown has now handed down 1,115 pardons, along with 51 commutations of sentences, since returning to office in 2011, far more than any other governor in modern California history.
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