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Attorney General William Tong

05/22/2020

Federal Court of Appeals Court Strikes Down Immigration Court Ruling Denying Connecticut Resident the Benefit of a State Pardon

Attorney General Tong Personally Defended Legitimacy of Connecticut Pardon Process in Oral Arguments before the First Circuit

(Hartford, CT) – On Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed an immigration court decision that denied Richard Marvin Thompson the full benefit of his Connecticut pardon.

Mr. Thompson is facing deportation for conviction of a crime in 2001 – even though he earned a full pardon from Connecticut’s Board of Pardons and Paroles, which entitles him to stay in this country. Attorney General Tong filed an amicus brief in Thompson v. Barr and personally defended Connecticut’s pardon process in oral arguments before the First Circuit last July.

The First Circuit vacated the federal Board of Immigration Appeals’ (BIA) decision, and sent the case back to the BIA with instructions to properly apply the law.

“Connecticut pardons count. The First Circuit’s careful and scholarly opinion leaves no doubt that for 60 years the federal government respected Connecticut pardons – and that the government’s unexplained reversal in just the past few years is arbitrary, capricious, and will not stand. Now, two things need to happen. Mr. Thompson must be immediately released back to his family and community. And the Department of Justice should drop their legally incoherent and discriminatory policy and respect Connecticut’s legitimate and lawful pardon process across all relevant cases now and going forward,” said Attorney General Tong.

Richard Marvin Thompson came to the United States from Jamaica in 1997 at the age of 14 to live with his U.S. citizen father. In 2001, Mr. Thompson was convicted of second-degree assault – an offense for which he later received a "full, complete, absolute, and unconditional" pardon from Connecticut's Board of Pardons and Paroles. In any other state in the country, that unconditional pardon would have been enough to protect Mr. Thompson from deportation under the federal Immigration and Nationality Act’s "Pardon Waive Clause." But the federal government singled out Connecticut residents for harsher treatment – arguing, incorrectly, that Mr. Thompson must be deported merely because Connecticut's pardons are issued by the governor-appointed Board of Pardons and Paroles rather than directly by the governor.

As the First Circuit’s decision notes, Connecticut's pardon system is substantively identical to that in Georgia – and in four other states, Alabama, Idaho, South Carolina and Utah. The BIA accepts pardons from Alabama and Georgia as satisfying the Pardon Waiver Clause, and accepted Connecticut pardons until three years ago. The First Circuit decision is Thompson v. Barr, no. 18-1823 (1st Cir. 5/21/20).

In a similar case, the Board of Immigration Appeals last December terminated removal proceedings against Hartford resident Wayzaro Walton, affirming the validity of Connecticut’s pardon process.

To avoid the need to relitigate the issue repeatedly in the face of a misguided federal policy, Attorney General Tong is suing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of State in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, seeking a declaratory judgment protecting the legitimacy of Connecticut's pardons. That case is Connecticut v. Department of Homeland Security, no. 19-1597 (D. Conn.).
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