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A Judge Keeps His Promise

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Nina Bernstein at the New York Times reports a human interest story that is at once heartwarming and very troubling: it’s the tale of young Qing Hong Wu, who pleaded guilty to a series of muggings and was sentenced as a juvenile offender to 3 to 9 years in a reformatory, giving him a chance to turn his life around.

“If you do that, I am here to stand behind you,” the judge, Michael A. Corriero, promised. The youth, Qing Hong Wu, vowed to change. Mr. Wu kept his word. He was a model inmate, earning release after three years. He became the main support of his immigrant mother, studying and working his way up from data entry clerk to vice president for Internet technology at a national company.

But almost 15 years after his crimes, by applying for citizenship, Mr. Wu, 29, came to the attention of immigration authorities in a parallel law enforcement system that makes no allowances for rehabilitation. He was abruptly locked up in November as a “criminal alien,” subject to mandatory deportation to China — the nation he left at 5, when his family immigrated legally to the United States.

Now it appears that Wu, viewed within his community as a model and a star, is going to China, even though he doesn’t speak proper Chinese, because of stringent immigration law rules. But Judge Corriero has gone to bat for him, trying to persuade Governor David Paterson to give him a pardon that will allow him to stay in New York.

About a decade ago, I recruited Judge Corriero to work on a project preparing judges and prosecutors to deal with juvenile justice issues relating to child warriors following the civil war in Sierra Leone. Many of these young offenders experienced tragedies that would be almost unimaginable to Americans: most were taken from their parents at an early age, many saw their parents die, and not a few lost limbs in the violence that dominated West Africa at this time. Corriero became passionately engaged with their problems and also gave useful guidance to local judges and prosecutors about how to deal with them justly, in a manner that treats victims and youthful offenders alike with respect. He inspired everyone who worked with him, so it comes as no surprise to me that he also provided the right impetus to the young Mr. Wu. It would be a tragedy if his appeals were not heard and acted upon in Albany.

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