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Paterson changes policy on deporting immigrants

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Gov. David Paterson announced this week that he is creating a state panel to review cases involving legal immigrants facing deportations for criminal convictions.

The policy move comes in the wake of Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, which makes it a crime to be present in the state without legal status as well as allows police to demand suspects to show proof of their status.

Paterson said the state panel would provide recommendations on whether to pardon legal immigrants, such as those who had been convicted of a minor crime or had taken steps toward rehabilitation.

Queens is one of the world’s most diverse counties and could, therefore, be heavily affected by Paterson’s decision.

“Some of our immigration laws, particularly with respect to deportation, are extremely inflexible,” the governor said. “However, federal law allows governors to pardon individuals in certain cases in order to remove the deportation consequence of a state criminal conviction. In some small way, we hope this initiative will help set an example for how to soften the blows in those cases of deserving individuals caught in the web of our national immigration laws. We hope it will prove that justice can always find a way.”

The panel will be known as the Special Immigration Board of Pardons and made up of five existing state employees.

In many cases, deportees are sent to nations they left as children but where they currently have no relatives nor speak the language, the governor said. Deportation often tears them away from their spouses or children, who might be United States citizens.

But in some cases, the panel will not prevent deportation pursuant to federal law, especially in the cases of certain drug and gun crimes.

In March, the governor pardoned Qing Hong Wu, a 29-year-old information technology executive from Manhattan who had been threatened with deportation because he had been involved in a series of muggings as a teenager.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 5:48 pm, October 10, 2011
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