The federal Board of Immigration Appeals has indicated it will now recognize pardons issued by the state of Connecticut, according to the attorney for a Hartford woman previously threatened with deportation.
Wayzaro Walton has been fighting a removal order since 2012. Her attorney Erin O’Neil-Baker said Monday she received word that the proceedings against her have been terminated.
“I’m still in disbelief,” said Walton during a news conference late Monday. “I’m beyond ecstatic and appreciative of all the help and support -- it’s just overwhelming. I’m so happy.”
Walton came to the U.S. from England when she was 4 years old and lived legally in Connecticut as a permanent resident for most of her life. In her teens and 20s, she had a string of arrests for nonviolent offenses, including larceny and conspiracy to commit larceny.
She became a target of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and in March of this year she was detained. One day after her detention, Connecticut issued a full pardon for her old offenses.
Despite that, ICE continued to seek Walton’s removal, apparently not recognizing Connecticut’s pardons process.
But Monday, O’Neil-Baker received notice from the Board of Immigration Appeals that her case has been reopened and the removal proceedings terminated.
“I’m overwhelmed, I’m stunned,” O’Neil-Baker told Connecticut Public Radio. “We are so happy and it’s such a clear message from the Board of Immigration Appeals that it’s better than expected. That not only is the case reopened, but Wayzaro is going to get her permanent residency back.”
The decision is also expected to affect another Connecticut-related case, that of Richard Marvin Thompson, currently detained in Alabama. He also had received a pardon in Connecticut for previous offenses.
“It’s going to have an impact on immigrants throughout Connecticut who have faced issues regarding pardons in the past,” said O’Neil-Baker. “So it’s not just on Wayzaro’s case, but it can have far-reaching impacts for all Connecticut residents who are facing removal orders and who have pardons. This is life-changing for her.”
Walton was released from custody in New Hampshire just before Thanksgiving and allowed to return to her wife, Tamika Ferguson, and their daughter in Hartford.
Walton said now that she’s free, she’ll look for a job to support her wife and daughter. And she says she’ll now be her daughter’s N0. 1 fan at her basketball games.
Connecticut Attorney Gen. William Tong issued a statement saying the termination of proceedings affirms the validity of the state’s pardons process.
“Connecticut pardons count,” said Tong in the statement. “This is a tremendous victory for Wayzaro Walton and for the entire state of Connecticut. I thank the BIA for this just and well-reasoned decision. I am overjoyed for Taz, Tamika and their daughter, who have endured unimaginable stress and trauma. Now we must work to ensure the BIA’s affirmation of Connecticut’s pardon process is applied to all relevant cases."
Gov. Ned Lamont also welcomed the development.
“Today’s ruling is a win for every resident of Connecticut,” he said in a statement. “A pardon granted in the state of Connecticut is no different than a pardon issued in any other state, and any attempt by a federal agency to ignore that would have created an unjust reality for every person who lives in Connecticut.”
An ICE spokesperson said that it’s against agency policy to comment on a case being handled by the board.
This post has been updated.