Federal officials have agreed to once again recognize Connecticut pardons as legally valid and stop deporting people who have been pardoned for their crimes by a state board, reversing a hard-line stance taken by the Trump administration, officials announced Friday.
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said the Justice and Homeland Security departments under Trump had abandoned six decades of practice in singling out Connecticut and refusing to recognize its pardons, because they are issued by a board rather than the governor.
Five other states — Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, South Carolina and Utah — have similar pardon systems, but the federal government continued to recognize their pardons, Tong said. All five states are more conservative than liberal Connecticut.
Several Connecticut residents who were suddenly pardoned found themselves embroiled in deportation proceedings and detained. Tong’s office filed legal challenges to the federal government’s refusal to recognize the state’s pardons and prevailed in court.
“This agreement affirms, to the full force of the law, what we have known to be true for more than a century: Connecticut’s pardons are legitimate and legal,” Tong, a Democrat, said in a statement. “There was no reason for the federal government to single out Connecticut and deny our residents the second chance we chose to give them.”
Messages seeking comment were left with Justice and Homeland Security officials. The US attorney’s office in Connecticut, which is also part of the settlement, referred questions to the Justice Department.
Federal officials previously agreed to start recognizing Connecticut pardons again in 2020 after Tong sued federal agencies. But the Department of Homeland Security did not give final approval to that deal and continued to refuse to honor the state’s pardons, Tong said.
Two Connecticut residents pardoned by the state, Wayzaro Walton and Richard Thompson, were detained in federal removal proceedings and later released after Tong’s office won legal challenges.
In 2019, the Board of Immigration Appeals terminated Walton’s removal proceedings, after ruling that his pardon was valid. The Hartford resident, who came to the US from England when she was 4 years old, was detained for nearly eight months as federal officials tried to deport her. She had been a legal permanent resident for 25 years until she lost her legal status in 2012 on theft charges.
In 2020, a federal appeals court reversed immigration authorities’ decision to deport Thompson because he had been convicted of a felony assault 19 years earlier, when he was 18, despite his state pardon.
Thompson, who lived in Bridgeport, came to the US from Jamaica in 1997 when she was 14 years old to live with her father, who is a US citizen.