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Can A Full Pardon By The State of Connecticut Protect An Immigrant From Deportation?

Wayzaro Walton (middle), at a rally December 4, 2018 protesting her deportation order. She would leave behind a wife and daughter if she has to follow a final removal order.
Wayzaro Walton (middle), at a rally December 4, 2018 protesting her deportation order. She would leave behind a wife and daughter if she has to follow a final removal order.

A federal appeals court in New York City will hear arguments today on whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement has the right to deport an immigrant for past crimes, even though her record has been cleared by the state of Connecticut.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong is expected to defend the legitimacy of the state’s pardons.

Lawyer Erin O’Neil-Baker will speak on behalf of her client Wayzaro Walton, who is currently being held in an ICE detention facility.

“For ICE to not respect the Connecticut pardon, it’s a violation of the 10th Amendment that says states have the power to make their own system of pardons,” said O’Neil-Baker in an interview with Connecticut Public Radio.

Connecticut’s pardons are issued by a Board of Pardons and Paroles. And the state is not unique.  Governors in six states delegate pardon power to a board.

But at a court hearing in Boston earlier this summer, Justice Department attorney Jessica Burns said Connecticut’s pardons don’t meet federal requirements. She pointed to the exact language of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

“We are interpreting the Pardon Waiver, which is part of the INA, which specifically limits pardons to pardons by the Governor or President of the United States,” said Burns.

Wayzaro Walton came to Connecticut from England when she was four years old and lived as a legal permanent resident. During her teens, she was caught shoplifting and conspiring to steal more.

She has been fighting a removal order since 2012.

In March she was picked up and detained by ICE. One day later, she received paperwork from the state of Connecticut granting her a full and unconditional state pardon for her crimes.

The case is being closely watched because it could affect other immigrants facing deportation.

Copyright 2019 Connecticut Public Radio

Diane Orson is CT Public Radio's Deputy News Director and Southern Connecticut Bureau Chief. For years, hers was the first voice many Connecticut residents heard each day as the local host of Morning Edition. She is a longtime reporter and contributor to National Public Radio. Her stories have been heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Here And Now. She is the co-recipient of a Peabody Award. Her work has been recognized by the Connecticut Society for Professional Journalists and the Associated Press, including the Ellen Abrams Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism and the Walt Dibble Award for Overall Excellence.
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