The Immigrant Defense Project Applauds the Governor’s Granting of Clemency for New Yorkers and Calls for Year-Round Clemency and Greater Transparency

June 3, 2024

On May 24 , Governor Kathy Hochul granted eleven pardons, some of those to immigrants who are deeply rooted in their communities in New York yet face immigration consequences because of their convictions. We applaud the Governor’s announcements to grant these pardons and to commute the sentences of two people incarcerated in New York

One of the pardon recipients is Paul Pierrilus, who was born to Haitian parents in St. Martin and moved to New York at five years old, growing up as a New Yorker with strong community bonds. Because of 

immigration laws, an immigration judge ordered Paul to be deported on the basis of a drug-related conviction in 2003. Unable to be returned to Haiti, Paul was required to check in under an order  of supervision for almost 15 years until ICE unexpectedly detained him at a check-in during the last days of the Trump administration. His community fought to keep him home, but in the middle of the night in February 2021, ICE put him on a plane to Haiti, a country where he had never set foot. Mr. Pierrilus requested a pardon, with his counsel at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Haitian Bridge Alliance earlier this year.

“Governor Hochul, I want to express my gratitude for the pardon you have graciously granted me. Your decision means the world to me, my family, loved ones, and our community. It has given me a renewed sense of purpose, and I can’t thank you enough for this second chance at life,” said Paul Pierrilus. “To me, this is more than formal legal relief; it represents hope to rebuild my future. Your support, trust, and willingness to take a chance on me has opened up new possibilities that will profoundly impact my life. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for this incredible opportunity. Your kindness and generosity will always be remembered, and I am determined to make the most of it.” Paul and his team now call on the Biden administration to acknowledge that this pardon, as the basis for his deportation years ago, should be used to bring him home by granting him humanitarian parole.

As we celebrate the importance of this pardon for Paul and 12 other New Yorkers benefiting from clemency this month, we also think about the thousands of New Yorkers still waiting on decisions who remain separated from their families and communities, such as Christopher Simmons and Assia Serrano.

Christopher, a longtime New Yorker, has been incarcerated for the past 25 years and awaits a commutation to reunite with his family. During the past decades, Christopher has reflected on his actions and committed himself to mentoring and supporting those around him. To hear directly from Christopher, as well as his community of friends and family, watch this short video

Assia, a Panamanian immigrant and survivor of domestic violence with two young children in the U.S., also awaits a decision on her pardon application. As a young adult, Assia was incarcerated for actions she took as a direct result of the controlling and abusive behavior of her then-partner, and sentenced to 18 years in prison. After serving 15 years, Assia’s sentence was shortened under the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA), but she was immediately detained by ICE and deported. To hear directly from Assia, read her article appearing in the CUNY Law Review.

We will continue to hold the Governor to the commitments she made in 2021 to dedicate additional resources to be able to grant clemency on a rolling basis throughout the year and to increase transparency and communication with applicants. 

To bring true transparency, accessibility and fairness to New York’s clemency process, the Immigrant Defense Project and the Clemency Coalition of New York call on the legislature to pass the Clemency Justice Act (S.222/A.155) this session. The Clemency Justice Act would take a critical step to help reunite families facing deportation and incarceration.


Clemency is a powerful but underused tool that offers recipients the second chance that is routinely denied by the overly punitive criminal and immigration systems. Pardons and commutations are a means for the Governor to address the unfairness of excessive sentences as well as harsh immigration consequences that never expire. For example, the criminal legal system assigns punishment without taking into consideration the long-term consequences it may have on a person’s immigration case—creating a double punishment through the deportation machine pipeline. Because ICE can detain and deport someone with a criminal conviction for the rest of their life, regardless of how much time passes, a Governor’s pardon helps keep families and communities together and relieves people of the heavy burden a criminal record carries into perpetuity under draconian immigration law. New York’s governors have historically granted far fewer clemencies than other states.