For the third time in his governorship, Andrew Cuomo exercised his pardoning power to block the deportation of immigrants with minor criminal convictions behind them. On Monday, the governor announced that he would extend clemency to seven people, a move intended as a rejoinder to what he deemed the Trump administration's "war" on immigration.
"At a time when President Trump and the Federal government are waging a war on our immigrant communities, New York stands firm in our belief that our diversity is our greatest strength," Cuomo said in a statement. "While President Trump engages in policies that rip children out of the arms of their mothers and tries to ramp up the deportation of New Yorkers to advance his political agenda of hate and division, we will protect our immigrant communities."
For most of the people on the governor's clemency list, old substance-related criminal histories made them targets for deportation, even though they had remained crime-free for many years. For example: 53-year-old Ludames De La Cruz, originally from the Dominican Republic, was convicted for trying to sell controlled substances 17 years ago. Now, according to Cuomo's statement, he has cancer and stands to lose his familial support system if deported. 57-year-old Elpidio Rodriguez, also from the Dominican Republic, was convicted of criminal possession of a controlled substance and of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated 19 years ago. In addition to his hospital job, he now takes care of his parents and his grandchildren along with to his immediate family.
In December, Cuomo issued a similar round of pardons, granting clemency to 18 people whose past crimes threatened their futures in the United States. In June 2017, he also pardoned Carlos Cardona, a 9/11 volunteer who spent a month and a half in jail after selling cocaine to an undercover cop in 1990. At the time of his pardon, Cardona had been detained thanks to a Trump directive prioritizing the removal of "criminal aliens."
Monday's pardons come after months of increasingly aggressive anti-immigration policy from the White House. As families were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border these past months, some 700 children were sent to New York to await immigration hearings. In response, Cuomo wrote a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, demanding more information on where and how they children were being housed. And while he has recently gone after ICE for its "aggressive tactics" in making arrests, the agency is still using coercive measures to trap people in New York City.
While his primary gubernatorial opponent, Cynthia Nixon, has called for ICE's outright abolition, Cuomo's criticism has been more measured. A recent article in The Intercept revealed that some big-dollar Cuomo campaign donors have been profiting off of ICE, which the governor's critics say creates a conflict of interest. "It's deeply concerning that while Andrew Cuomo continues to say he stands with immigrants — and even mistakenly claims he is an immigrant and undocumented — that he is also continuing to hold campaign cash from those profiting from ICE and CBP," said Javier H. Valdés, co-executive director of Make the Road Action.