A Pardon For Christmas

There’s something sentimental about it which stirs even the hardest heart this time of year. It wasn’t a gift former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper would give, but the new governor, Jared Polis, was in more of a giving move.

Gov. Jared Polis on Monday announced he has pardoned undocumented immigrant Ingrid Encalada Latorre, a Peruvian woman who had fought deportation and has spent the last two years in sanctuary, from felony charges related to a stolen Social Security number that she had purchased to work in the country. Losing those charges was a prerequisite for her to re-open her immigration case and ask an immigration judge to de-prioritize her deportation order.

That Latorre was targeted for deportation is unsurprising. She was undocumented and pleaded guilty to a felony. It wasn’t a terrible crime by any means, but it wasn’t a victimless crime either.

Until recently, she’s been working with someone else’s papers, which she bought on the street. Piper told Denverite that Latorre believed they were fake. The man who sold them to her told her not to pay taxes.

But it turned out the papers belonged to a real person, and when that person got in trouble for not paying taxes, it led authorities to Latorre. A sheriff picked her up at the nursing home where she worked.

The market for buying stolen social security numbers creates the incentive to steal them. For the person whose identity was stolen, it’s a problem they neither asked for nor deserved. Sure, it was eventually “cleaned up,” but it could just as well have ended poorly, and nobody needed the problems until it was sorted out. Still, whoever it was suffered so Latorre could buy a social security number to work because she chose to be here unlawfully.

She’s since paid the back taxes, but she got bad legal advice and pleaded guilty to a felony. That makes her a No. 1 priority for deportation.

Was Latorre a victim of “bad legal advice”? Did she have a defense to her actions, a case to go to trial with a reasonable expectation of being acquitted? Or is this “bad legal advice” the sort of inane reaction to collateral consequences that were unavoidable?

Had she not pleaded guilty to a felony, would she have instead gone to trial, been convicted, been sentenced to prison and, upon release, been deported? Instead, her bad legal advice saved her a prison sentence, even if it left her facing the same consequences she would have faced regardless.

The problem is that once someone commits a crime, particularly one to conceal unlawful conduct, there aren’t always good options available. That’s the nature of laws. Break them and the option of walking away isn’t always available.

More curious is that Latorre lived in “sancturary,” a church, to avoid deportation. Contrary to popular belief, there is no law that precludes ICE from entering a church to arrest someone. At least she wasn’t alone there.

She’s been fighting deportation for years, but she could be deported to Peru at any moment. That’s why she, her sons and her boyfriend, Eliseo, left their home to live at Mountain View Friends Meeting.

ICE chose to let her and her family be.

Churches are considered “sensitive locations” by ICE and the agency generally won’t enter any kind of religious institution to make an arrest, unless circumstances are extreme.

Latorre wasn’t a threat to anyone. Her crime wasn’t violent, even if it wasn’t victimless. It wasn’t committed because she wanted to harm anyone, but just to work and care for her family. ICE figured it wasn’t worth the unsavory images of storming a church to get her. So she remained in her sanctuary.

Polis’ decision to pardon Latorre, along with four others, creates an opening in the immigration case.

“Now I can return home and be with my family,” she continued in Spanish, holding back tears. “It’s what I wished for so many months and years, for the doors to open for me, because everything had been blocked. This is a great surprise, today, to receive this pardon.”

Latorre said her federal immigration case remains open and her attorneys will make an appeal.

She will no longer be subject to deportation as an aggravated felon, but the significance of that shift is dubious. She will still be undocumented, and her presence in the United States will still be unlawful. There are likely other equities, including her children who may well be American citizens, that will alter the calculus so that her deportation can be prevented. At least she won’t be a high priority deportation anymore.

But why did Polis grant her a pardon, given that her felony offense was real and caused someone harm, and her status as undocumented remains?

“Clemencies are a tremendous responsibility given to a governor that can change a person’s life,” Polis said in a statement. “These decisions were not taken lightly and were made after careful consideration of each individual case. These are people looking for a second chance and the opportunity to move beyond the mistakes from their past. They have taken important steps to turn their lives around and shown remorse for their actions.”

This is certainly true, even if entirely generic. But is he saying there are only five people, including Latorre, in Colorado who fit this description? Is he saying that Latorre was more worthy than, say, tens of thousands of people in prison, with children who miss them, serving decades-long sentences or worse? Was there anything unique about Latorre’s taking “important steps to turn her life around”? Did she show remorse? It seems likely there were many other who did as well. Maybe even more than living in a church.

This was a wonderful Christmas gift to Ingrid Encalada Latorre, whose circumstances reflect a great many of the problems with the current state of our immigration laws and system, problems that affect millions of undocumented immigrants and remain unaddressed. But what of the tens of thousands of others whose stockings were empty, even though they fit the rationale as well, if not better, than Latorre, but are citizens for whom few seem particularly concerned these days?

6 thoughts on “A Pardon For Christmas

  1. B. McLeod

    Probably too many reps of “Polis Navidad” on the office radio. One of the things about pardons is that they are random, and whatever moves the granting executive to issue a pardon is good enough. This is not entirely unfitting, as the criminal system works randomly throughout. In this case, one person got her Golden Wonka Ticket and a new shot at “happily ever after.” Perhaps there will be some media follow-up to tell what comes of it, but more likely not.

  2. Jay

    Haha this is the grumpiest post from you in a while. Begrudging another’s good fortune for the holidays. Way to be.

  3. PML

    I would be willing to bet that as soon as she hits the street ICE will nab her, bag and tag her and send her back to Peru so fast her attorney won’t have a chance to stop it. Since they already have a final deportation order signed and sealed there is no stopping them.

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