Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Wednesday pardoned a Salvadoran woman with a conviction for a minor traffic offense, a largely symbolic move that he said he hoped would help her stave off deportation.
McAuliffe (D) acknowledged that his pardon may not spare Liliana Cruz Mendez from expulsion from the United States because she has a deportation order. But he said the gesture makes clear that the 30-year-old mother of two from Falls Church does not pose a threat to public safety.
“Taking Liliana away from her kids & husband won’t make VA safer,” the governor tweeted. “Feds need to focus on public safety threats & real immigration reform.”
McAuliffe said he hoped immigration officials would take his pardon into account when considering Cruz Mendez’s case.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Carissa Cutrell said Cruz Mendez is subject to deportation because she is in the United States illegally, regardless of her criminal convictions. “ICE took Ms. Cruz Mendez into custody based on a final order of removal issued by an immigration judge in April 2006,” Cutrell said in a statement.
ICE granted Cruz Mendez two stays of deportation under President Barack Obama, which had expired. ICE agents detained her May 18 after she arrived for a routine check-in.
Her arrest comes as ICE is increasingly arresting undocumented immigrants with no criminal records or with minor infractions.
While groups that favor tougher immigration enforcement praise President Trump’s efforts to deport immigrants here illegally, McAuliffe and others question the use of federal dollars to sweep up minor offenders such as Cruz Mendez, who had a misdemeanor conviction in 2014 for driving without a license. She is the mother of two U.S.-citizen children.
Cruz Mendez is being detained by ICE in Williamsburg, Va., according to CASA, a nonprofit group that represents her.
ICE has said that Cruz Mendez was first arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol in 2006 and then ordered deported two months later. Seven years later, ICE detained her briefly after she was arrested for the misdemeanor charge.
Advocates for immigrants cheered the governor’s action, but Republicans blasted it. “The Republican Party of Virginia believes in the rule of law and that the concerns of the citizens of Virginia should come first, not those of illegal immigrants,” the party said in a statement.
Fenit Nirappil contributed to this report.