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US immigration

Donald Trump blasts California governor for pardoning ex-convicts facing deportation to China and Cambodia

Governor Jerry Brown granted pardons Friday to 56 people who had completed their sentences years ago after being convicted of drug-related and other non-violent crimes. Five of those are immigrants facing deportations

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 April, 2018, 2:05pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 April, 2018, 9:19pm

US President Donald Trump has attacked California Governor Jerry Brown for his pardon of five ex-convicts facing deportation, including a man born in Macau and two who fled the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia with their families four decades ago.

In a tweet, Trump referred to Brown as “Moonbeam,” referencing a nickname a newspaper columnist coined for him in the 1970s. Trump then listed the ex-convicts’ crimes before they were pardoned Friday.

They include misdemeanour domestic violence, drug possession, and kidnapping and robbery.

Trump wrote: “Is this really what the great people of California want?”

Trump’s tweet, sent while the president was travelling from his Mar-a-Lago estate to the nearby Trump International Golf Club, may have been prompted by a report Saturday during the 6am hour of Fox and Friends, which Trump watches regularly.

The show aired a segment titled “Lawless in California”.

As an infographic described the crimes that the five pardoned men were convicted of, the show’s weekend hosts tore into Brown, suggesting that he was putting Californians at risk.

A spokesman for Brown responded to a request for comment with more information about the five men but did not directly address Trump’s criticism.

In a news release about the pardons on Friday, the governor’s office said that “those granted pardons all completed their sentences years ago and the majority were convicted of drug-related or other non-violent crimes.”

“Pardons are not granted unless they are earned,” the governor’s office said.

Brown’s pardons marked the third time the Democrat has intervened on behalf of immigrants who were deported or faced deportation over convictions. Brown has accused the Trump administration of “basically going to war” with California over immigration policy.

Brown’s pardons don’t automatically stop deportation proceedings, but eliminate the convictions on which authorities based their deportation.

Trump has been criticised for his own pardon, that of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted last year of a misdemeanour contempt charge for flouting the courts in carrying out his signature immigration patrols.

Trump’s pardon spared Arpaio from a possible jail sentence. The 85-year-old long-time lawman announced a run for Senate in January.

Those pardoned Friday by Brown included Sokha Chhan and Phann Pheach, who face deportation to Cambodia, a country ruled in the 1970s by the genocidal Khmer Rouge.

Chhan came from Cambodia at the age of 13. His family had escaped from the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.

Chhan lost his US legal status in 2002 when he was convicted of inflicting corporal injury on spouse or cohabitant and threatening a crime with the intent to terrorise, both misdemeanours.

He served nearly a year in jail and three years of probation. According to Brown’s office, Chhan served in the US Army Reserve and volunteers at his local temple.

After he served his sentence, Chhan raised his five children as a single father by “working in the fields, working as a mechanic, or baking doughnuts for 12-13 hours every day with no days off,” according to one of his daughters who was quoted in the pardon statement.

Phann Pheach was born at a refugee camp in Thailand and came to the United States as a Cambodian refugee when he was 1, according to a GoFundMe page created by his wife.

Sopeant Pheach wrote that her husband grew up in a bad neighbourhood and that he committed drug crimes to “fit in”.

Phann Pheach was convicted in 2005 of possession of a controlled substance for sale and obstructing a police officer. He served six months in prison and 13 months on parole.

Also pardoned was Daniel Maher, who served five years in prison stemming from the 1994 armed robbery of a San Jose auto parts store. He was convicted of kidnapping, robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm in the case.

Maher is facing deportation to China, where he has never lived. Maher is from Macau, which became part of China after his family immigrated to California when he was 3.

Maher is now the recycling programme director of Ecology Centre, a non-profit based in Berkeley, California.

He had been under the threat of deportation to China since at least 2015, according to the centre, which launched a petition, held news conferences and organised a rally in San Francisco on Maher’s behalf.

“Daniel’s case is of a person who made one mistake as a young adult, served his time and then completely turned his life around,” the centre said.

“He is an asset to all who know him.”

Also pardoned while facing deportation were Daniel Mena and Francisco Acevedo Alaniz. Mena served three years of probation after being convicted of possessing illegal drugs in 2003. Alaniz served five months in prison for a 1997 car theft conviction.

The governor is a former Jesuit seminarian and traditionally issues pardons close to major Christian holidays. Easter falls on Sunday.

California’s longest-serving governor has now issued 1,519 pardons, including 404 during his first two terms as governor from 1975 to 1983.

Additional reporting by The Washington Post