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Pardoning Immigrants

Peter L. Markowitz, Lindsay Nash

In the waning days of the Obama Administration, with Trump’s promised immigration crackdown looming, over one hundred advocacy organizations joined forces to urge President Obama to permanently protect hundreds of thousands of immigrants from deportation by pardoning their breaches of civil immigration law. That pardon never materialized and, as expected, the Trump enforcement regime is sowing terror and devastation in immigrant communities nationwide. While it seems unfathomable that the current President would use his pardon power to mitigate even the most extreme applications of our nation’s immigration laws, there is unfortunately no indication that the harshest aspects of the immigration laws are likely to be revised by the current political branches. Accordingly, future Presidents will likely once again face the questions of how they may use prosecutorial discretion generally, and the pardon power specifically, to address the human toll of such laws. Since the Founding, the pardon power has been used primarily to forgive individual criminal convictions. Thus the broad civil immigration pardon, which Obama declined to issue, would have raised novel questions regarding the appropriate boundaries of the presidential pardon power. Resolution of those previously unexplored questions is necessary to help future Presidents determine whether their pardon power can serve as a safety valve to alleviate the disproportionate penalties that our immigration laws have imposed on longtime members of our communities.

This Article explores the novel concept of a civil immigration pardon. Specifically, it closely examines the language and drafting history of the Pardon Clause, exhaustively reviews early and modern pardon practice and jurisprudence, and considers whether a President could, consistent with the Constitution, use that power to protect some of the largest categories of noncitizens currently at risk of deportation. Ultimately, it argues that the President possesses the constitutional authority to categorically pardon broad classes of immigrants for civil violations of the immigration laws and to thereby provide durable and permanent protections against deportation. As millions of noncitizens and their families face a historically unprecedented wave of deportations and as traditional mechanisms for policymaking continue to fail, the immigration pardon offers an important tool for future Presidents to forgive the civil offenses that result in some of the harshest penalties in our nation’s justice system.

Judicial Challenges to the Collateral Impact of Criminal Convictions: Is True Change in the Offing?

Nora V. Demleitner

In Response to: Return of the JRAD

Judicial opposition to disproportionate sentences and the long-term impact of criminal records is growing, at least in the Eastern District of New York. With the proliferation and harshness of collateral consequences and the hurdles in overcoming a criminal record, judges have asked for greater proportionality and improved chances for past offenders to get a fresh start. The combined impact of punitiveness and a criminal record is not only debilitating to the individual but also to their families and communities. A criminal case against a noncitizen who will be subject to deportation and a decade-long ban on reentry and three different requests for expungement will demonstrate how three federal judges struggled with the long-term effects of the current sentencing and collateral consequences regime. These cases exemplify both judicial creativity and judicial impotence, as the courts have to call upon the support of other actors within the executive and legislative branches for change, in these individual cases and systemically.

These judicial critics of the current approach argue within an emerging normative framework that is coming to dominate the societal discourse on punishment. Increasingly some offenders are deemed “worthy” of receiving our assistance in reintegration. They are generally nonviolent first offenders, those with an unblemished record save for the offense of conviction, those who have been gainfully employed or desperately want to work, and those who have cared for their children. They present no danger to the community, and their continued punishment may negatively impact them, their surroundings, and ultimately the country. On the other hand, those labeled violent or sex offenders or terrorists are being considered dangerous, unredeemable, and deserving of the harshness the criminal justice system has brought to bear on them. The specific categorization of offenses, the definitions of terms, and the categorization of offenders remain fluid, contingent, and subject to constant revision. Still, these judicial efforts expand on the incipient efforts at full reintegration of some of those with a criminal record. Whether their challenges will resonate with their colleagues and in other branches of government remains to be seen.

Nora V. Demleitner, Judicial Challenges to the Collateral Impact of Criminal Convictions: Is True Change in the Offing?, 91 N.Y.U. L. Rev. Online 150 (2016).

A New Hope: Bringing Justice Back into Removal Proceedings

Jennifer M. Chacón

In Response to: Return of the JRAD

In his article, Return of the JRAD, Professor Jason Cade makes a strong and viable case that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can and should take into account nonstatutory Judicial Recommendations Against Deportation (JRADs) and other criminal justice signals of diminished criminal culpability when deciding whether or not to charge a noncitizen with deportability. Professor Cade’s proposal is a good one. The overall effects of his proposal will be modest. It can neither eliminate racial disparities in the criminal justice system and deportations nor end capricious distinctions between similarly situated criminal defendants in removal proceedings. On the other hand, it has no notable downsides and some significant potential upsides. Part I explains why exercising discretion along the lines that Cade proposes is firmly within DHS’s discretion and why such modest and rational exercises of discretion are unlikely to spark political backlash. Part II elaborates upon the potential benefits of Cade’s proposal. First, by encouraging criminal sentencing judges to issue nonstatutory JRADs, the Cade proposal promises to provide DHS with useful information otherwise unavailable at the charging stage, thus increasing charging fairness. At the same time, his proposal would make a positive change in the way that at least some criminal sentencing judges think about immigration consequences in criminal sentencing. Ultimately, it might even change the way that we talk, think, and write about the nexus of immigration and criminal law—better exposing the common failings and the interconnections of these systems to scholars and practitioners other than those who routinely work at their intersection.

Jennifer M. Chacón, A New Hope: Bringing Justice Back into Removal Proceedings, 91 N.Y.U. L. Rev. Online 132 (2016).

Back to the Future? Returning Discretion to Crime-Based Removal Decisions

Kevin R. Johnson

In Response to: Return of the JRAD

Jason A. Cade has powerfully advocated for returning greater discretion to the courts and agencies in making and reviewing Executive Branch decisions to remove noncitizens from the United States. His latest Article, Return of the JRAD, calls for a revival of a now-discarded procedural device of allowing courts sentencing noncitizen criminal defendants to make a “Judicial Recommendation Against Deportation” (JRAD) that would bar the Executive Branch from removing a noncitizen from the United States. Congress eliminated the JRAD from the immigration laws in 1990. In calling for its comeback, Cade points to a ruling by revered federal district court judge Jack Weinstein. In United States v. Aguilar, Judge Weinstein issued a sentencing order that, despite the fact that Congress abolished the JRAD a quarter century ago, resembled the old recommendations against deportation. The court thus went beyond the law on the books to advocate against the removal from the United States of a one-time, non-violent criminal offender with U.S. citizen children. One might dismiss Judge Weinstein’s recommendation as dicta. However, Jason Cade views the order as a much-needed sign of judicial resistance to the harsh criminal removal provisions of the modern U.S. immigration laws. He advocates the return of discretionary authority to the courts to ensure greater proportionality and reasonableness to contemporary removal decisions.

Kevin R. Johnson, Back to the Future? Returning Discretion to Crime-Based Removal Decisions, 91 N.Y.U. L. Rev. Online 115 (2016).