Gov. David Paterson pardoned a Chinese immigrant on Saturday who faced deportation after disclosing on an application for U.S. citizenship that he had convictions for robbery going back nearly 15 years to when he was a teenager.
Since Qing Hong Wu was detained in November 2009 by federal immigration authorities, civil rights groups, a former judge and even the Police Benevolent Association, where the 29-year-old used to work, had been lobbying to get him freed from a New Jersey jail and his record wiped clean.
All that work seemed to pay off with Paterson's pardon.
Michael Corriero, a retired judge who sentenced Wu in 1996 to 3 to 9 years in a juvenile reformatory and wrote a letter to the governor in support of a pardon, said it was a "tremendous victory for justice."
"It really reaffirms that we recognize that young people should be able to recover from their adolescent mistakes, especially young people like Mr. Wu who have demonstrated their capacity to change their behavior," Corriero said.
He said Wu was released early after serving three years because he had demonstrated an ability to reform his behavior.
"He did everything that we expected of him," Corriero said.
Wu became netted in the nebulous federal immigration system after getting engaged in 2007 and deciding to apply for
citizenship. On his application, he disclosed that he had been convicted of robberies committed in New York City in 1995 and 1996. He served three years at a reformatory, where he earned his GED.
But a federal law enacted in 1996 made it impossible for immigration judges to consider whether he had been rehabilitated.
When he reported to an immigration officer in the fall of 2009, he was detained as a ``criminal alien'' and faced mandatory deportation to China, in spite of his having come to the U.S. with his parents when he was 5.
Since being detained, he's been at Monmouth County Correctional Institute in Freehold, N.J.
In January, Wu's family contacted the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, an Asian-American civil rights organization, which led a campaign to free him and to request that the governor pardon him, which would clear his record.
"We had to go to Herculean efforts to undo this egregious wrong," said Elizabeth OuYang, a chapter spokeswoman.
In a statement released Saturday afternoon, Paterson said Wu's case proves that ``an individual can, with hard work and
dedication, rise above past mistakes and turn his life around."
Wu's attorney, Jorge Guttlein, said he would file a motion to terminate the deportation proceedings. He would work to get Wu out of jail by the end of the week, he said.
OuYang said Wu's family was trying to get the news to him.
"He is the only person who doesn't know yet," she said. "He calls from the jail to his family every other night."