President Donald Trump lashed out at California Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday morning, continuing a longstanding feud between his administration and the Golden State over immigration.
“Governor Jerry ‘Moonbeam’ Brown pardoned 5 criminal illegal aliens whose crimes include (1) Kidnapping and Robbery (2) Badly beating wife and threatening a crime with intent to terrorize (3) Dealing drugs. Is this really what the great people of California want?,” the President tweeted, along with a tag to Fox News.
The “Moonbeam” reference is not one of Trump’s oft-used original diminutives, but rather dates back to the 1970s. It was coined by well-known Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko because of Brown’s then-new age ideas on topics like energy and weather satellites and eventually stuck, as described by The New York Times.
On Friday, the Democratic governor granted 56 pardons and 14 commutations.
Five of those pardons went to immigrants facing possible deportation, according to The Sacramento Bee: Sokha Chhan, Daniel Maher, Phann Pheach, Francisco Acevedo Alaniz and Sergio Mena.
According to the governor’s office, Chhan served almost a year in jail and three years of probation for domestic abuse. Maher served five years in prison and three years on parole for kidnapping, robbery and possession and use of a firearm. Alaniz served time for vehicle theft; Pheach and Mena, for possession of a controlled substance for sale.
“Those granted pardons all completed their sentences years ago and the majority were convicted of drug-related or other nonviolent crimes,” a statement from Brown’s office said.
- Chhan, who was sentenced in 2002, according to The Bee, came to the United States at the age of 13 from Cambodia while fleeing the Khmer Rouge regime. He is currently in federal custody awaiting deportation.
- Maher, who was sentenced in 1995 to five years in prison, came to the United States legally at the age of 3 from Macau, but lost his green card when he was convicted.
- Pheach, who was convicted in 2005 and sentenced to six months, came to the United States at the age of 1 from Cambodia. He is awaiting deportation.
- Alaniz, convicted in 1997, served five months in prison and 13 months on probation.
- Mena was sentenced in 2003 and served three years of probation.
The pardons by the governor could greatly affect whether the five will be deported, according to The Bee.
A spokesperson for Brown’s office told CNN they find Trump’s comments “rather curious given President Trump’s proclamation yesterday declaring April ‘Second Chance Month’ to ‘celebrate those who have exited the prison system and successfully reentered society.’”
The spokesperson also reiterated that the pardons are granted “to individuals who have demonstrated exemplary behavior and have lived productive and law-abiding lives following their conviction.”
Maher, for example, began working for the nonprofit Ecology Center in Berkeley after prison. His colleagues told CNN in 2015 that he was a kind, generous and dependable man. Maher told CNN in July 2015 that he had “worked hard to turn (his) life around.”
A fundraising page set up for Pheach by his wife describes him as a “bright-minded, selfless person” with a stable job and a loving family. Chhan was awarded sole custody of his five children and according to Brown’s office, served in Army Reserve.
Trump’s Twitter attack on Brown is the latest in a developing standoff over immigration policy. It also comes of part of a larger tendency on the part of the President to characterize undocumented immigrants as dangerous criminals.
In early March, the Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit against the state and its top officials to stop a cluster of so-called “sanctuary state” bills. In remarks announcing the suit in Sacramento, Attorney General Jeff Sessions decried officials who support sanctuary city policies as “extremists” promoting “open borders.” He reserved particular ire for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who announced publicly that federal authorities would be conducting immigration crackdowns. Immigration officials slammed the move, accusing her of allowing hundreds of criminals avoid capture.
Brown fired back at Sessions following those remarks, calling the attorney general’s appearance a “political stunt” that was full of “lies” and untruths.
The verbal tit-for-tat continued later that day, when Sessions appeared on Fox News with a further message for California.
“Somebody needs to stand up and say, ‘No, you’ve gone too far. You cannot do this.’ This is not reasonable. It is radical, really,” he said.
CNN’s Tal Kopan, Moni Basu and Madison Park contributed to this report.