For many individuals around the world, the United States is a symbol of opportunity, democracy, and freedom. Anxious to leave oppressive, violent regimes or circumstances with limited access to resources and opportunities, many seek solace in America. They find hope in the well-known American phrase, “Give me your tired, your poor / your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.
Unfortunately, today’s political landscape has made the journey to call America home more challenging for these individuals and their families—especially if they have histories with justice involvement. Our current federal administration expanded the enforcement of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) laws to target immigrants with justice involvement with greater scrutiny. Under an executive order issued on January 27, 2017, ICE has focused on deporting immigrants who have been:
1. convicted of any criminal offense;
2. charged with any criminal offense that has not been resolved;
3. committed acts which constitute a criminal offense for which a person could be charged; or
4. in the judgment of an immigration officer, pose a risk to public safety or national security regardless of the circumstances.
These expanded criteria do not take into consideration the alleged incident date, surrounding circumstances, or severity.
As a result, the United States deported more than 256,000 people in 2018—an increase of 13% from 2017. Of the people deported, approximately 66% had prior or current justice system involvement. According to the same report, ICE also arrested 158,581 people—an 11% increase over 2017. Of the people arrested, 90% had prior or current justice system involvement.
Through advocacy initiatives spearheaded by our David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP), we urge lawmakers to enact legislation that reunites families and decreases the risk of deportation. Recently, we celebrated a victory with our One Day to Protect New Yorkers campaign. Led in partnership with Immigrant Defense Project (IDP), this newly enacted law reduces the maximum sentence on class A misdemeanor offenses by one day, safeguarding thousands of New Yorkers from being separated from their communities because of immigration detention, denial of necessary forms of immigration relief, and deportation.
Recognizing the overwhelming number of community members in need of pardon assistance, The Fortune Society partnered with IDP on Pardon: Immigrant Clemency Project, which provides free pardon screenings, connects eligible individuals with pro bono legal representation for their pardon application, and advocates on their behalf. Since taking office, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has issued 51 pardons to immigrant New Yorkers.
On Tuesday, May 7, Fortune traveled to Albany to raise awareness by hosting a rally and meetings with legislators in both houses about the power a pardon holds. We hope to encourage lawmakers to support Governor Cuomo as we urge him to grant more pardon applications for immigrant New Yorkers. By rallying and engaging in meetings with these political decision-makers, we help ensure that this work remains a top priority on the Governor’s agenda.