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California Governor Pardons 3 in Bid to Block Deportations

In this file photo taken on Oct. 8, 2019, California Gov. Gavin Newsom gestures during an interview in Sacramento, Calif.
In this file photo taken on Oct. 8, 2019, California Gov. Gavin Newsom gestures during an interview in Sacramento, Calif.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday announced that he is pardoning three men who separately committed crimes when they were each 19 years old and now are attempting to avoid being deported to Cambodia or Vietnam.

It’s the latest in a series of similar actions by the Democratic governor as the Trump administration ramps up efforts to deport those with criminal records, particularly to Southeast Asian nations.

California has fashioned itself as a “sanctuary state” for those in the country illegally, and in 2017 passed a law barring local and state agencies from cooperating with federal immigration authorities over those who have committed certain crimes, mostly misdemeanors.

Those pardoned include Saman Pho, 44, of Oakland, who was the subject of a state Capitol rally and petition drive earlier this month by immigrant rights groups. The group Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus said he was detained by immigration agents early last month.

He arrived in the United States at age 7, fleeing Cambodia with his family. He was convicted in 1995 of attempted murder after shooting a victim in the leg during a fight, served 12 years in prison and now has a U.S. citizen wife and four minor children.

The others are Santa Clara County residents Quyen Mai, 36, and Dat Vu, 38, both fighting deportation to Vietnam.

All their criminal offenses happened at least 16 years ago, Newsom’s office said, calling their deportations now “an unjust collateral consequence that would harm their family and community.”

Pardons do not automatically protect someone from being deported because they don’t erase the criminal convictions on which deportation orders often are based. But they do emphasize the person’s rehabilitation.

Mai was sentenced to nearly three years in prison after his conviction in 2005 of being an accessory following a shooting during a fight, according to the governor’s office. He is now executive director of the Vietnamese Voluntary Foundation, has several public service awards and started the first Vietnamese-American youth-run radio talk show. He entered the U.S. as a refugee when he was 11 years old.

Vu was convicted in 2000 of assaulting three men in two incidents and threatening a witness. He entered the U.S. at age 9 as a refugee from Vietnam and now has a U.S. citizen wife and two young children.

Both men’s pardon applications were supported by Democratic Assemblyman Ash Kalra of San Jose. Pho’s application was supported by two assemblymen, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and much of the city council.

Despite his previous pardons, immigrant rights groups earlier this month called on Newsom to do more to block the transfer of prison inmates to federal immigration authorities.

They want the governor to stop prison officials from holding parolees until they can be picked up by federal immigration officials. They also criticized him for vetoing Kalra’s legislation that would have barred private security companies from entering prison grounds to pick up immigrants for deportation.

Newsom separately pardoned John DiFrenna, 55, of Orange County, who in 1990 was sentenced to probation for possessing drugs for sale.