California Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday pardoned five ex-convicts facing deportation, including two whose families fled the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia four decades ago.
The pardons don’t automatically stop deportation proceedings, but eliminate the state convictions federal authorities based their deportation decisions on. That gives the men’s lawyers strong legal arguments before immigration judges to try to prevent the deportations.
“The pardon does provide enormous benefit to immigrants facing deportation,” said Anoop Prasad, an immigration staff attorney at Asian Law Caucus.
Brown’s intervention for the men — among 56 pardoned — marked the Democratic governor’s third consecutive pardon round in which he intervened on behalf of immigrants who were deported or faced deportation because of criminal convictions. Brown has accused the administration of President Donald Trump of “basically going to war” with California over immigration policy.
Brown last year signed sanctuary legislation limiting state and local cooperation with federal enforcement of immigration laws. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions responded with a Department of Justice lawsuit seeking to invalidate three state laws protecting residents living in the country without documentation.
Those pardoned Friday included Sokha Chhan and Phann Pheach, both of whom face deportation to Cambodia, a country ruled in the 1970s by the genocidal Khmer Rouge. Chhan was convicted of two counts of misdemeanor domestic violence in 2002 and served 364 days in jail.
Pheach was convicted of possessing drugs and obstructing a police officer in 2005 and served six months in jail. His wife said he is in federal custody.
Also pardoned was Daniel Maher, who was convicted in 1995 of kidnapping, robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm and served five years in prison. Maher is facing deportation to China.
Chhan, Pheach and Maher hold permanent U.S. residency but had exhausted all legal avenues to fight deportation, making Brown’s pardons for them their last hope to stay in the U.S., Prasad said.
“This is a life-changing, enormous event,” he said.
Also pardoned while facing deportation were Daniel Mena and Francisco Acevedo Alaniz, but their home countries were not immediately known. Mena was convicted in 2003 of possessing illegal drugs. Alaniz served five months in prison for a 1997 auto theft conviction.
Brown on Friday also commuted the sentences of 14 others convicted of crimes.
The governor is a former Jesuit seminarian and traditionally issues pardons close to major Christian holidays. Easter falls on Sunday.
California’s longest-serving governor has now issued 1,519 pardons, including 404 during his first two terms as governor from 1975 to 1983.
Brown’s father, Edmund G. “Pat” Brown issued 467 pardons and 55 commutations, but there have been long stretches of very few in California.
From 1991 through 2010, former Govs. Pete Wilson and Gray Davis issued no pardons while Arnold Schwarzenegger handed out just 15.