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Transgender advocate from Jackson Heights, facing deportation, is pardoned by Cuomo

Transgender advocate Lorena Borjas is granted a pardon by Gov. Andrew Cuomo shielding her against the threat of deportation.
Courtesy of Translatina Coalition/Guillermina Hernandez
By Bill Parry

A transgender woman from Jackson Heights who has become a strong advocate for transgender and immigrant communities nationwide was granted a pardon by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week.

Mexican-born Lorena Borjas, 57, was at high risk of deportation for a 1994 conviction of fourth-degree criminal facilitation as a result of being entrapped as a victim of human trafficking, according to the governor’s office.

“With this pardon granted, I will no longer have to go to sleep at night worrying that I will be deported back to a country that is no longer home,” Borjas told the Transgender Law Center, a national civil rights group. “I will be able to live my life without stress and fear of immigration, and I will be able to continue doing the work I do and help more vulnerable transgender women.”

Borjas runs HIV-testing programs for transgender sex workers, and syringe exchange programs for trans women taking hormone injections. She currently works as an educator at community health centers across New York City, and she has drawn commendations from elected officials, advocates and community members. With the pardon, Borjas is free to apply for U.S. citizenship and continue her advocacy work.

“Lorena has done more than anyone I know to shine a light on the epidemic of trafficking in transgender communities and to help other trans women escape exploitation,” said Lynly Egyes, the Transgender Law Center’s litigation director. “Her generosity and self-sacrifice in well known throughout New York state and the country. I am thrilled for Lorena and grateful that after years of selfless work helping others, New York State answered the call when she was in need.”

Borjas was one of 18 immigrants who were pardoned by Cuomo Dec. 27. All were “contributing members of society” who faced deportation and other immigrant-related challenges as a result of previous convictions, according to the governor’s office.

In addition, Cuomo issued 39 conditional pardons to people who were charged with misdemeanors or nonviolent offenses when they were 16 or 17 years old and have been crime-free for a decade or more.

“These New Yorkers have proved their rehabilitation, in some cases for decades, but have been unable to gain legal status or fully re-enter society due to the stigma of conviction,” Cuomo said. “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.”

In June, Cuomo issued a pardon to Carlos Humberto Cardona, 48, also of Jackson Heights, after he was detained and faced deportation to his native Colombia on a 1990 drug conviction. Cuomo called Cardona a “civic-minded New Yorker” who volunteered as a cleanup and hazmat recovery worker at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 attacks at the “expense of his own health.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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