Connecticut Says Feds Still Trying To Deport Pardoned People

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Federal officials are not honoring an agreement to accept the validity of Connecticut pardons and continue trying to deport people pardoned by a state board because of their crimes, according to state Attorney General William Tong's office.

Tong's office sued several federal agencies including the U.S. departments of Homeland Security, Justice and Immigration and Customs Enforcement in October 2019. The lawsuit said federal authorities were refusing to honor the state's pardon system in the cases of immigrants facing deportation because of criminal convictions, but who had been pardoned by the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles.

At the time, the federal agencies argued a pardon must come from the president or a state governor in order to avert deportation proceedings. State officials responded that other states have pardons boards and the federal government was singling out Connecticut after having recognized its pardons as valid from 1952 to 2017.

The lawsuit appeared to be settled in September, with federal officials agreeing to recognize the state's pardons.

But in new documents filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut last week, Tong's office said the Department of Homeland Security did not grant final approval to the settlement and continues to resist honoring the state's pardons. State officials said Homeland Security has not ended deportation cases against several people who were pardoned by the state.

Homeland Security issued a statement on March 23 saying it would honor Connecticut pardons, but also said the state's pardons still may not be valid.

“While this is welcome and an important development, it does not fully resolve our claims,” Tong said in a statement Thursday. "We are pushing forward with our case to permanently protect the legitimacy of Connecticut pardons and how they are viewed not just through DHS, but also the Department of State.”

Messages seeking comment were left with the Department of Homeland Security and a Justice Department attorney defending the federal government from the lawsuit.

Joshua Perry, special counsel for civil rights for the Connecticut attorney general's office, wrote in a new court filing that the Homeland Security Department is still not honoring state pardons granted to three Connecticut residents — Georgios Nikiforides, Hongnakhorn Luangpraseuth and Kimanie Graham.

Nikiforides, 50, of Norwalk, had assault convictions from 2002 and 2012 and was pardoned by the state board last year. He has lived in the U.S. since he was 2 years old. Court documents did not disclose his country of origin.

Luangpraseuth, 42, of South Windsor, was convicted of crimes as a teenager and was pardoned in 2019. The son of a Laotian refugee, he came to the U.S. when he was an infant, court documents said.

Graham, of Bridgeport, was convicted of drug charges and pardoned last year. But federal officials have not stopped trying to deport Graham to his native Jamaica, the state's court documents say.

In 2019, the Board of Immigration Appeals terminated deportation proceedings for another pardoned Connecticut resident, Wayzaro Walton, after ruling her pardon was valid. The Hartford resident, who came to the U.S. from England when she was 4, was detained for nearly eight months as federal officials tried to deport her. She had been a legal U.S. citizen for 25 years until she lost her legal status in 2012 over larceny charges.