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Queens Chronicle

Governor pardons transgender activist

In move against feds, Cuomo grants clemency to Lorena Borjas and others

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Posted: Thursday, January 4, 2018 10:30 am

Transgender activist Lorena Borjas got something like a late Christmas gift from the state government last Wednesday.

That was when Gov. Cuomo pardoned her and 17 others “who are contributing members of society and face the threat of deportation and other immigration-related challenges as a result of previous convictions.”

Overall, the governor granted clemency to 61 people. Most of the cases did not involve people facing possible deportation; 39 of them were pardons for people who committed non-violent crimes and misdemeanors when they were 16 or 17 years old and had not committed any crimes for more than a decade.

Borjas, an Elmhurst resident from Mexico, was convicted of fourth-degree criminal facilitation in 1994, according to Cuomo’s office, a crime committed because she was a victim of human trafficking.

“It is a great relief,” she told the Chronicle via translation by attorney Flor Bermudez.

Cuomo’s office said each of the 18 immigrants who were pardoned has “demonstrated a substantial period of crime-free, good citizenship.”

Borjas is the founder and CEO of C—lectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo, a Jackson Heights-based advocacy group dedicated to the transgender community. On her Facebook profile’s wall, the Elmhurst resident shared an emotional video in which she announced the pardon.

Along with syringe exchange programs for trans women using hormone injections, Borjas has run free HIV testing programs for sex workers who are transgender.

“I will now be able to apply for a green card with my correct gender marker and apply for citizenship,” Borjas said.

She co-founded the Lorena Borjas Community Fund, which provides bond assistance to LGBTQ immigrants who have been arrested, in 2012.

The activist has been praised by city officials like Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Public Advocate Letitia James. According to El Diario, she also has worked with the AIDS Center of Queens County.

Her advocacy work includes speaking out against the trafficking of trans women.

In an interview, Borjas thanked Cuomo for the pardon.

“I also want to thank the Transgender Law Center,” she added. The law center has represented her.

“Lorena has done more than anyone else I know to shine a light on the epidemic of trafficking in transgender communities and to help other trans women escape exploitation,” TLC Executive Director Lynly Egles said in a prepared statement. Egles and Bermudez provided counsel to Borjas.

According to the law center, Queens Criminal Court Judge Toko Serita acknowledged that the activist’s criminal facilitation and other convictions were related to her being a victim of trafficking. However, the law allowed only prostitution convictions to be vacated for that reason.

Explaining the granting of clemency, Cuomo criticized the White House. The governor has been highly critical of fellow Queens native President Trump’s tough stance on unauthorized immigrants.

“While the federal government continues to target immigrants and threatens to tear families apart with deportation, these actions take a critical step toward a more just, more fair and more compassionate New York,” Cuomo said in a prepared statement.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is not impressed by the clemency.

“While the Governor’s pardons appear to be yet another politically-driven attempt to circumvent federal immigration law, whether or not they actually have any legal effect on individual immigration cases will be reviewed by ICE,” Enforcement and Removal Operations in New York Field Office Director Thomas Decker said in a prepared statement.

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