The New York Civil Liberties Union today applauded Gov. David Paterson’s leadership in creating a special panel to consider pardons for immigrants who are facing deportation for minor or old criminal convictions.

“Governor Paterson has made a courageous and compassionate stand for justice and common sense,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “His decision stands in sharp contrast to the misguided and discriminatory immigration law recently enacted in Arizona. Our government should be working to keep families and communities together, not tearing them apart. Unfortunately, until Congress passes workable comprehensive immigration reform, states will be compelled to address this issue on their own. New York got it right; Arizona got it terribly wrong.”

In creating the pardon panel, Paterson is bringing fairness to a particularly inflexible and harsh aspect of federal immigration law that subjects immigrants to mandatory detention and deportation for a wide range of minor, nonviolent offenses, even if the offenses occurred decades ago. Current law ties immigration judges’ hands and requires deportation in many complex cases that deserve a careful weighing of the facts. Paterson’s panel could provide much-needed relief to many New York families facing the prospect of losing a parent, child or sibling to our broken immigration system.

Last week, the U.S Senate’s Democratic leadership, including New York Sen. Charles Schumer, outlined a draft comprehensive immigration reform bill that would make many important changes to our nation’s broken immigration system, such as providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, treating immigrants in detention centers humanely, and ending discrimination against bi-national LGBT families in the immigration system.

However, the draft Senate bill would not change the federal law at issue in Paterson’s decision to establish a pardon panel. It also raises serious civil liberties and civil rights concerns, including a troubling provision which would create a mandatory biometric national ID card for all U.S. workers, a continuation of local enforcement of immigration laws, and a failure to restore due process, judicial review and basic fairness to the immigration system.