Governor Jerry Brown has pardoned an anti-ICE activist facing deportation who helped advance the effort to turn California into a so-called “sanctuary state.”
Phal Sok was among three Cambodian refugees with criminal records who recently had their past crimes absolved by the state’s top executive. Although Sok has been lawfully present in this country since his arrival in the early 1980s, his rap sheet included three felony convictions that made him a deportation target.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the pardons “wipe the crimes off the California Department of Justice and FBI books.”
Brown said Sok is currently under removal proceedings. However, the pardon could eliminate the federal government’s justification for deporting him.
The Sacramento Bee reports:
Sok came to the U.S. at three months old and has lived in the United States legally for 37 years. He was convicted and sentenced in Los Angeles County in 2000 for robbery with the use of a firearm, according to the Governor’s Office. He served 15 years in prison and was discharged in August 2017.
Brown said he works at a nonprofit “dedicated to criminal justice reform,” adding that those who know Sok describe him as a “tireless advocate for immigrants, particularly refugee children and youth,” and a “true American.”
Sok says he was released from an immigration detention facility last year after “the community” paid his bond. Since then, he became an organizer for the Youth Justice Coalition (YJC). The Los Angeles-based group routinely aligns with Black Lives Matter, the ACLU, and California Democratic lawmakers seeking to reform the state’s criminal justice system, oftentimes while impeding federal immigration enforcement. Sok spoke at rallies promoting the passage of the “sanctuary state” bill — also known as the California Values Act — which Governor Brown would sign into law last October.
“Immigrant detention is worse than any number of years in state prison,” Sok is quoted as saying. “It is not conducive for health … it’s not meant for anything but to keep you in a box.”
The California Endowment, a health foundation which funds YJC, describes Sok as a “leader working to close immigrant prisons” who “is often speaking his truth at ‘Schools Not Prisons’ events.” Sok has also helped push policy changes within the Los Angeles Police Department that reduced the agency’s role in immigration violations.
“Our public servants and public dollars should serve the community, not facilitate our deportation,” Sok said earlier this year.
One month ago, Sok represented the YJC as a featured panelist in an anti-incarceration discussion titled, “Abolish ICE and Beyond: Imagining and Working Towards a World Without Cages.” He reportedly called for the ICE abolition movement to coalesce with groups advocating for criminal justice reform, united against all systems of oppression.
Governor Brown has pardoned several immigrants at risk of deportation since President Donald J. Trump was inaugurated last year. Three U.S. military veterans who had been deported to Mexico received pardons from Brown in April 2017. Just before Christmas, he also pardoned two Cambodian men who faced deportation after being detained during immigration sweeps. Since returning to the governor’s office in 2011, Brown has granted 1,186 pardons and commuted 82 sentences.
This month alone, Brown issued sentence commutations to 31 inmates — including more than a dozen convicted murderers — and pardoned 36 formerly incarcerated individuals.
“Those granted pardons all completed their sentences years ago,” Brown’s office said in a statement. “Pardons are not granted unless they are earned.”
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.