As Connecticut resident Wayzaro Walton sits in a Massachusetts detention center waiting to see if she’ll be deported to England, many notable lawmakers and officials have asked federal authorities to stop the process, let her return to Connecticut and remain in the Nutmeg State.
Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin are among officials and political leaders advocating for Walton, who faces deportation over her state-pardoned criminal record.
Tuesday afternoon Tong and Walton’s attorney, Erin O’Neil-Baker, spearheaded a well-attended press conference focused on where her case stands and what still needs to be done.
Connecticut pardoned Walton, who moved to the United States from England when she was 4 years old, for felony shoplifting and five misdemeanor convictions, all for sixth-degree larceny. The issue gets complicated because the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement only recognizes pardons made directly by state governors. In Connecticut, a board that the governor appoints issues pardons. ICE has not recognized that pardon, and is continuing deportation proceedings against Walton. The agency has made three attempts since 2012 to deport Walton, 34, who is married and has a 15-year-old American daughter.
On Monday evening, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City granted a stay of deportation. The court did not address Walton’s release from the ICE detention center, where she has been held since March 26.
“Right now, our next step is to request and demand Wayzaro’s release from Massachusetts while we have this temporary stay,” said O’Neil-Baker, a partner with the Hartford Legal Group. “Our ultimate goal is to have her removal orders to England reopened. I am optimistic that will happen. We have very strong legal arguments and that is that those convictions have been fully and completely pardoned. There is no longer any basis for her removal order.”
Tong echoed those sentiments.
“ICE has taken the position that because it’s not a pardon from the governor directly, it does not count,” Tong told the Connecticut Law Tribune. “That is ridiculous because Connecticut has every right as a sovereign state to determine how its pardon power is exercised. This is a part of immigration enforcement that I can’t make heads or tails of. There is no reason why she should be targeted for deportation. There is nothing about her that is screaming deportation.”
The next step, O-Neil-Baker said, is to get the Virginia-based Board of Immigration Appeals to reopen the removal order.
“I expect to hear from the board in 30 days,” O-Neil-Baker said.
Either side could appeal the board’s decision to the Second Circuit of Appeals again, which would make the final decision.
In a statement emailed Thursday to the Connecticut Law Tribune, an ICE representative wrote that Walton is “an unlawfully present citizen of the United Kingdom with a final order of removal issued by an immigration judge.”
“Subsequent appeals of the immigration judge’s decision were dismissed,” the statement continued. “Walton is a convicted felon with numerous additional misdemeanor convictions.”
O’Neil-Baker said she talks by phone to Walton on a daily basis.
“She is so grateful for the support from all over, but she really just wants to get home,” her attorney said. “She misses her daughter and wife. Some days her spirits are low and she is afraid of being deported. She is not in any fear of her safety in England, but she has not been there since she was 4 years old, and has no connection with the country.”