07/04/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Special Immigration Board of Pardons to Review Deportation Orders

Immigrants in detention or facing deportation orders can breathe a collective sigh of relief now that Governor David Paterson is set to establish a special pardons panel to review cases on an individual basis. The decision is a step in the right direction in granting immigrants a second chance and reprieve to families on the brink of being torn apart, many for minor transgressions committed decades ago.

At the annual gathering of the state's top judges yesterday, Gov. Paterson announced his intent to establish a five-member Special Immigration Board of Pardons to consider and grant pardons to legal immigrants with old or minor criminal convictions. In opting for this course of action, the governor cited rehabilitation and renewal as key factors.

Immigrants are in detention or facing deportation for a variety of reasons, including misdemeanor marijuana possession. In some cases, immigrants pleaded guilty without being apprised of the deportation consequences. This past March, the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Padilla v. Kentucky when it held that criminal defense attorneys must advise clients about the immigration consequences of pleading guilty.

The significance of Gov. Paterson's pardons panel can only be truly appreciated when you consider that Immigration Judges have no discretion to consider individual cases of immigrant detainees, and factors such as length of time of residence in the United States, impact on their American-born children or U.S. citizen spouse. The pardons panel is about to change this trend.

Arlene M. Roberts is the author of The Faces of Detention and Deportation: A Report on the Forced Repatriation of Immigrants from the English-speaking Caribbean.