‘J” is a 42-year-old husband, the father of four teenagers and a project manager for a disaster restoration company where he supervises 50 employees. He came to the United States from the Dominican Republic when he was 18.
One mistake in his past, trying to sell drugs in his early 20s, has prevented him from obtaining U.S. citizenship.
“M” emigrated from Somalia at age 13. Now 37, he supports a wife with cancer and three young children, one with severe autism. M has been steadily employed for almost two decades, having put behind him a drug-possession conviction at age 20.
These are two of the 18 people who have turned their lives around and whom Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pardoned at the end of the year in an effort to push back against the increasingly harsh immigration policies coming from the White House. The 18 committed low-level offenses and have built solid lives in the years, and sometimes decades, since their convictions.
A youthful crime, a punishment paid, and now a life that supports others — they could be our neighbors. They could be us. Everything we know about human nature tells us that people who make the most of a second chance deserve to hold on to it.
The governor’s December pardons might remove barriers to jobs, volunteer opportunities and the pursuit of citizenship.
This is the second time that Cuomo has used his powers of clemency partly as a rebuttal to President Donald Trump’s immigration initiatives. Before last month, Cuomo had pardoned seven immigrants. However, the pardons are an uncertain guarantee. The governor’s office did not release the new 18 names, so as not to identify them to federal immigration officials who could still target them.
Trump began pressing on this emotion-laden issue during his second week in office with the order to temporarily ban entry by citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries. And on Thursday, he used a vile expletive to describe immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti and African countries.
In between, he tried to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protecting 800,000 Dreamers, though a federal judge has challenged whether he can, and Trump has canceled one after another temporary protected status designation, the most recent for Salvadorans, the largest immigrant community on Long Island. He wants to beef up Southern border security and restrict family migration policy.
What good does it do to deport responsible fathers, husbands and employees in our communities? What will happen to J’s four teenagers or M’s wife? Can we afford to ignore that they will fall into our social safety net and ring up costs to taxpayers?
Some argue that people here illegally should go back to their home countries and get in line for legal immigration. Come back the right way. However, that process can take many years, and meanwhile, what happens to their families here? People live day by day; we don’t subsist on ideologues’ would-be purity. What’s more, Trump seems to abhor even legal immigration, mischaracterizing the diversity visa lottery program as countries sending us “the worst of the worst.”
Back on Cuomo’s list, “F,” a 45-year-old émigré from the Dominican Republic, is caring for his ill wife and has a daughter serving in the U.S. Navy. “N,” 44, came from Trinidad and Tobago, and his elderly mother relies on him for her care.
These individuals are living the ideal of caring for family and community in a way that exemplifies American values. Deporting these neighbors would be irresponsible, irrational and costly. It’s time to rethink Trump’s direction on immigration.
Anne Michaud is the interactive editor for Newsday Opinion.