Cuomo’s snub to Trump allows nonprofit leader Lorena Borjas to continue work in LGBT community

Illustration by Zach Williams/ NYN Media
Lorena Borjas, a Queens-based LGBT activist and nonprofit leader, received a pardon from Governor Andrew Cuomo on Dec. 27 that will allow her to avoid deportation.

Cuomo’s snub to Trump allows nonprofit leader Lorena Borjas to continue work in LGBT community

December 29, 2017

In a sense, President Donald Trump saved LGBT activist Lorena Borjas from deportation.

Borjas – the founder of an eponymous nonprofit that provides bail assistance to LGBT defendants – has been in danger of deportation ever since a misdemeanor state conviction more than 20 years ago. But a decadeslong effort to put her on the road to citizenship culminated this week when Gov. Andrew Cuomo included the Mexican native with 60 other people receiving clemency.

Cuomo – who issued only eight pardons in his first five years in office – made clear on Wednesday why he chose to act in the cases of 18 immigration-related pardons.

“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,” he said in a statement. “These New Yorkers have proved their rehabilitation.”

That process involved more than 20 years of work helping others escape the abusive situations similar to the one that led Borjas to a 1994 conviction for criminal facilitation in the fourth degree, which resulted from being a victim herself of trafficking, the statement added.

In the two decades that she has lived under a legal cloud, Borjas – who could not be reached for comment – made a name for herself in the LGBT community. She supported other LGBT people by educating them on health issues, providing condoms and food and setting up a weekly HIV testing clinic in her own home, according to the Transgender Law Center, which provided her legal representation.

A Queens judge had recognized that Borjas’ legal troubles arose from her experience as a victim of human trafficking. “Only Lorena’s prostitution convictions were vacated under New York’s Vacating Convictions law due to limitations of the law,” according to a statement from the center.

The pardon enables the 57-year-old to apply for citizenship and continue her work. She said in an online video statement that the legal relief should inspire others in the LGBT and immigrant communities to persevere through their own tribulations.

“Keep going because the door and the sun’s arrival will come,” she said in Spanish. “I spent almost 10 years searching for this immigration relief and finally, at long last, it was given to me ... So, I invite you all to not stop. Stay in the fight because this is going to come to you.”

But she could not have done it alone. Supporters like New York City Public Advocate Letitia James attested to the value of Borjas’ community work in urging Cuomo to pardon her. At least one supporter took to Twitter to urge Cuomo to do even more to recognize the value that Borjas brings to her community.

"Lorena Borjas. National treasure," said Sue Yacka-Bible, communications director at the nonprofit GLAAD, in a Dec. 27 tweet. "A governors pardon is great, but we New Yorkers know she deserves that plus a medal 🏅 of honor 🙏🏻 ."

Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech contributed reporting.

Zach Williams
Zach Williams
is a staff reporter at New York Nonprofit Media and sister publication City & State.