ST. PAUL — A board of state officials on Monday, Jan. 25 granted a pardon to a Minnesota woman who had been faced with removal from the country despite living in the U.S. for decades.
The pardon will allow Maria Elizondo, of Ada, Minn., to apply for the cancellation of her removal and other forms of immigration relief that her convictions previously barred her from seeking. She is the first person in 35 years to receive a full and absolute pardon in Minnesota, according to the State Board of Pardons.
In a statement issued late Monday evening, Attorney General Keith Ellison — one of the board's three members — said he was proud to support Elizondo's pardon and that "when we can act to make our system of justice more just and compassionate, we should do so."
"All Minnesotans will benefit from Ms. Elizondo’s second chance and opportunity to better her community and our state," Ellison said.
Elizondo's convictions date back to 2012. Three years earlier, according to an online fundraising web page established on her behalf, the married mother of seven faced financial hardship so extreme that she "was unable to feed her children and at risk of losing her home."
Elizondo applied for and later received welfare benefits but, because she failed to disclose employment income she earned through work performed under an assumed name, was later charged and convicted of wrongfully obtaining public benefits.
For using an assumed name, Elizondo was also convicted of identity theft. The convictions put her at risk of deportation to Mexico, despite her having lived in the U.S. for more than 40 years.
Ellison and Gov. Tim Walz, who also sits on the pardons board, said during a December board meeting that Elizondo should be granted an immediate pardon. Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea, the board's third member, asked for Elizondo's restitution to be repaid first, precluding the required unanimous vote.
A group of University of St. Thomas School of Law students led by Professor Mark Osler later started a fundraiser to help Elizondo pay off what she owed.
Walz cited the December testimony of Elizondo's son, now a patrol officer in North Dakota who has served three tours with the North Dakota National Guard, in a statement supporting her pardoning Monday.
"We cannot deploy this soldier while we deport his mother," Walz said.