Pardon me so I won’t be deported

Like many other New York families, mine is making all the preparations for a joyous holiday season with festive feasts, family gatherings and presents for all the kids in my extended family. For me there is one gift that would mean the world: a pardon from Gov. Hochul that ensures I can continue to celebrate with my family in the only city I have ever called home.

I am 52 years old, born to two naturalized U.S. citizen parents on a U.S. military base in Germany while my father was in the Air Force and I have lived in New York since I was just a few months old. Due to criminal convictions that date back to when I was a teenager and a punitive immigration system, the federal government is trying to deport me to Haiti, a country I have never set foot in.

Growing up, I never doubted I was a U.S. citizen. At 18, I received a sentence of 25 years to life in connection to a crime I didn’t even see take place. I spent more than two decades in prison and worked to turn my life around, earning five college degrees and focusing on how I could help young people facing similar circumstances to my own.

When I was released from prison in 2015, my parole paperwork showed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) themselves recognized what I understood to be true — that I was a U.S. naturalized citizen. After my release, I focused on building a new life, starting my own video production business, supporting my family and creating a nonprofit to train young people who had contact with the criminal legal system to make inspiring documentaries about people who achieved success after time in prison.

As ICE targeting of immigrants increased under President Donald Trump, I didn’t realize that I was in any danger. Then, on July 6, 2020, my life was turned upside down without warning.

That summer morning, a group of ICE agents showed up at my door and said they had a warrant for my arrest. As my distraught fiancée watched, they handcuffed me, put a chain around my waist and threw me in a van.

I felt like I was looking at my life coming to its end. I had worked extremely hard rebuilding my life. I had a lot of people I loved being cheerful and supportive in my journey. These people had invested a lot of time and effort in me. It felt like someone had come with a bulldozer to knock all that down. It was heartbreaking.

I spent 7½ months in immigration detention. It was only as the removal case against me proceeded that I fully realized what was going on: the U.S. government was forcing me to prove I was a citizen even though they had long recognized my citizenship. ICE also claimed I was born in Haiti, even though I have never stepped foot in Haiti. Even after they saw the birth certificate from my birth on a U.S. military base in Germany, ICE would not back down.

I was released from detention in February 2021, but I was ordered deported in August 2022, and have been fighting to stay in the U.S. ever since.

My experience inspired me to advocate for the many New York families facing situations like mine. There is no humanity in our immigration and criminal legal systems. My contributions to the people and neighborhood I love are ignored. But to the U.S. government, I’m simply a serial number on a screen.

As the governor enjoys the holiday season I urge her to think of the New Yorkers facing the cruel double punishment of permanent separation from their loved ones and use her pardon power to help keep New York families together.

New York’s opaque clemency process is difficult and devastating for so many. A relatively small number of people are likely to get a life-changing pardon or commutation in the coming days, but for thousands of others, there will be no clarity on when their chance might come. The Legislature must pass the Clemency Justice Act (S.222/ A.155) and the governor must sign it into law in the next session to make this process more transparent for incarcerated people and people facing deportation and exile from their families.

I continue to work and care for my family and community, defend my case in immigration court, and prepare for holiday celebrations. I am hoping the governor will hear my story, see my humanity and grant me a pardon that ensures I will be able to continue celebrating with my family in the years to come.

Charpentier lives in Queens with his fiancée and two step-children.

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