The Power of Collaboration

On December 31, 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo granted two pardons, affirming that people should not have to bear the consequences of a criminal conviction for life. Alvaro “Khalil” Cumberbatch, one of the pardon recipients, is a long-time legal permanent resident who spent half of 2014 in immigration detention. While, the Obama Administration has publicly acknowledged the need to remove federal barriers to successful reentry, so that a conviction does not prevent one from rebuilding one’s life and contributing to one’s community, its immigration policy undercuts the work of the reentry movement to reexamine the harmful effects of punitive policies and to reduce mass incarceration. In his November 20 speech on executive action for immigrants, Obama pointed to “felons, not families” as the main target for mass deportation.

At this moment when the government has heightened its priorities to target people with convictions for deportation, Khalil’s story and the collaborative efforts to win his freedom exemplify, why we should not give up on the fight for the rights of people with convictions.

In May 2014, organizations from the immigrant rights and reentry communities came together when alerted by Khalil Cumberbatch’s wife, Chamika, of the detention and pending deportation of her husband. Khalil is an integral member of the reentry community, highly revered for his accomplishments and commitment to improving the lives of others. In the early morning hours of May 8, two weeks before his graduation for a Master’s degree in School Work, armed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents unexpectedly arrived at the home of, Khalil and Chamika who had just awoken and were about to get their two daughters ready for the day. Promising that he would return home that evening, the agents took him to ICE detention where he was held for the next six months. Harsh immigration laws subject Alvaro to mandatory detention and deportation due to his single criminal conviction from 2002. Even though he is a lawful permanent resident, has lived in this country nearly all his life, and has demonstrated complete rehabilitation since his criminal conviction, an Immigration Judge was not allowed to consider all of the positive things he has done or to release him on bond.
A strong partnership was forged to win Khalil’s release from detention and subsequent pardon. We mobilized leaders from the re-entry, criminal justice and education communities to support the request that he be released from detention and that the government close his deportation case. After our relentless advocacy, ICE released Khalil from detention in October 2014, administratively closing his case. Two months later, Governor Cuomo granted his request for a pardon, opening up the opportunity for Khalil to be eligible for U.S. citizenship.

There are hundreds of thousands of other immigrants with convictions who will continue to be the target of mass deportation and who will not beat the odds. Our collaboration creates a pathway to end to practices and policies that disempower and marginalize people with convictions, including the targeting of people with convictions for mass deportation. We need more victories and more organizations willing to advocate on behalf of non-citizens with convictions.

“On behalf of my family and myself I extend my gratitude to Governor Cuomo and his staff for granting me an Executive Clemency in the form of a pardon. I would like to thank my wife, Chamika, for her never-ending support and encouragement during not only this struggle, but throughout our journey of life. I would like to thank my two daughters, for reminding me daily that I am a role model to them first and their father second. I would also like to say you thank to the Immigrant Defense Project, Fortune Society, Legal Action Center, College Initiative, JustLeadershipUSA, John Jay Prisoner Reentry Institute, and a long list of advocates, political allies, activists and concerned citizens who collectively used their voices to speak up and speak out. Their voices are a reflection of our shared belief that a person should not be perpetually punished because of their past, and that we have the inalienable human right to have opportunities to redeem ourselves.

I reflect on the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Our non-silence has brought us to this point. A point that many said we could not achieve; nevertheless we are here. Standing here at this moment, I ask you, what other points can our non-silence bring us to? What else is achievable if we band together and unite our efforts? How much can we achieve, despite being told that it is unachievable? These are the questions that I ask as we move forward this year and the years to come. I hope that you ponder, as I do, the answers and more importantly apply their possibilities.”

The Immigrant Defense Project applauds Governor Cuomo for granting a pardon to Alvaro “Khalil” Cumberbatch. IDP first learned about Khalil in May 2014, when he was being held in ICE custody at Hudson Correctional Facility. After learning about his detention, IDP joined forces with the Fortune Society, Legal Action Center, College Initiative, JustLeadershipUSA and other prominent reentry organizations to conduct a campaign for his release. As the result of our collective advocacy–building on the wide range of relationships that Khalil had fostered and the work he had done before being picked up by ICE–the government agreed to administratively close his case on October 10, 2014. The Governor’s pardon provides another key avenue for Khalil to remain with his family and community, and is a great step towards our collective goal to end excessive punishment and expand rights for people with convictions.

With immeasurable joy and appreciation, The Fortune Society celebrates this moment of recognition and justice for Alvaro “Khalil” Cumberbatch, and applauds Governor Cuomo for issuing this pardon. Those of us who have the pleasure of knowing Khalil know that he embodies everything the reentry community stands for. Governor Cuomo’s pardon provides official recognition of the man Khalil has become, along with the legal protections that are so critical to his ability to continue to do this work and remain in this country with his wife and two young daughters. Khalil’s story is about the power of one man to change himself and the world around him; and the power of communities to come together in collaborative advocacy. We are proud to have been a part of an incredible team including IDP, LAC, College Initiative, JustLeadershipUSA and so many others who worked tirelessly on Khalil’s behalf.

We at Legal Action Center are ecstatic that Alvaro “Khalil” Cumberbatch has been pardoned by Governor Cuomo! Since his release in 2010, Khalil successfully embodies what we as advocates for the formerly incarcerated fight to ensure: the hope and promise of a second chance. His subsequent journey through the crucible of immigration and criminal justice has demonstrated that family, friends and even strangers united in sustained and effective advocacy can move the impossible into the possible and into reality. LAC is proud to have been part of the team along with IDP, Fortune, CI, JustLeadership USA and countless others that have made this a reality.

College Initiative applauds and extends our sincerest gratitude to Governor Andrew Cuomo for pardoning Alvaro “Khalil” Cumberbatch. Khalil has been an integral part of the CI family since he was first released from prison, beginning as a CI student, going through our mentoring program as a mentee, mentor and joining our core staff as an Academic Counselor. His sudden incarceration and the threat of deportation not only threatened to harm his family and community, but also to end his invaluable work with CI. Following his release and now his pardon, Khalil’s story is one of a just end to a just struggle. It is also the story of the power of collaborative efforts. With the support of the CI community, Fortune Society, Immigrant Defense Project and Legal Action Center, along with family, friends and supporters, we were able to accomplish what seemed at one point a near-impossible task.

JustLeadershipUSA applauds Governor Cuomo for his courageous decision to pardon two well deserving New Yorkers. Necessary legislative change occurs at a devastatingly slow pace–the communities disproportionately impacted by incarceration and the punishment that stems from a criminal record know this truism most intimately. Both constitutionally protected and strengthened by historical precedent, our founders envisioned clemency as an important mechanism to alleviate individual cases of human suffering by serving as an executive check on overly punitive criminal sanctions. Governor Cuomo’s pardon means that these two individuals can both focus on rebuilding their lives, their families and their communities. As part of the team that worked to support Khalil, we are greatly encouraged by the possibilities our collaboration create for broader justice.

The Prisoner Reentry Institute was thrilled to learn of Alvaro “Khalil” Cumberbatch’s pardon by Governor Cuomo. All whose lives have been touched by Khalil know what a tremendous contribution he makes to his family and his community. Khalil is a wonderful example to us all of just how much a person can achieve after incarceration, if provided with the necessary support. We at PRI thank the Immigrant Defense Project, the Legal Action Center, College Initiative, JustLeadershipUSA and the many other organizations who supported Khalil during his initial reentry and his recent immigration detention. We look forward to see what else Khalil will accomplish, as well as what we in the field of reentry can accomplish with his help and the help of our many tireless partners.