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Feds agree to honor Connecticut pardons, stop deportations

Frankie Graziano
/
Connecticut Public Radio
Wayzaro Walton (middle, pictured at a rally organized on her behalf in Hartford in December 2018) was apprehended by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents while participating in an immigration check-in.

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Federal officials have agreed to recognize Connecticut pardons as legally valid again and stop deporting people who have been pardoned for their crimes by a state board, reversing a hard-line stance taken by the Trump administration, authorities announced Friday.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said the departments of Justice and Homeland Security under Trump had abandoned six decades of practice by singling out Connecticut and refusing to acknowledge its pardons — because they are issued by a board instead of the governor.

Five other states — Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, South Carolina and Utah — have similar pardon systems, but the federal government did not stop recognizing their pardons, Tong said. The five states are more conservative than liberal Connecticut.

Several Connecticut residents who were pardoned suddenly got swept up into deportation proceedings and detained. Tong’s office filed legal challenges to the federal government’s refusal to recognize the state’s pardons and prevailed in the courts.

“This agreement affirms, with full force of law, what we have known to be true for well over a century — Connecticut’s pardons are legitimate and lawful,” Tong, a Democrat, said in a statement. “There was no reason for the federal government ever to single out Connecticut and deny our residents the second chance we chose to grant to them.”

Messages seeking comment were left with Justice and Homeland Security officials. The U.S. attorney’s office in Connecticut, which also is part of the settlement, referred questions to the Justice Department.

Federal officials had previously agreed to start recognizing Connecticut’s pardons again in 2020 after Tong sued the federal agencies. But the Department of Homeland Security did not grant final approval to that deal and continued to refuse to honor the state’s pardons, Tong said.

Two Connecticut residents pardoned by the state, Wayzaro Walton and Richard Thompson, were detained in federal deportation proceedings and later released after Tong’s office won legal challenges.

"I just think about them, my wife and my daughter" Wayzaro Walton tells Connecticut Public

In 2019, the Board of Immigration Appeals terminated deportation proceedings for Walton, after ruling her pardon was valid. The Hartford resident, who came to the U.S. from England when she was 4, was detained for nearly eight months as federal officials tried to deport her. She had been a legal U.S. citizen for 25 years until she lost her legal status in 2012 over larceny charges.

In 2020, a federal appeals court reversed a decision by immigration authorities to deport Thompson because he was convicted of felony assault 19 years before when he was 18, despite his state pardon.

Thompson, who lived in Bridgeport, came to the U.S. from Jamaica in 1997 when he was 14 to live with his father, who is a U.S. citizen.

Gov. Ned Lamont praised the decision and Tong's efforts. “Just like in any other state, any individual who has received a pardon in Connecticut should have the opportunity to work here and contribute positively to their communities," Lamont said.

A Connecticut Public staff report is included.

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