“The crime could no longer be used for his deportation. He has an excellent cancellation case if he gets the pardon,” says Aaron Elinoff of Novo Legal Group, the immigration law firm representing Cruz Moreno.
Cruz Moreno has been in ICE custody since September 2018, when he was detained on a deportation order stemming from a past felony conviction. In 2000, Cruz Moreno, who entered the U.S. unlawfully in the mid-’90s, pleaded guilty to a felony domestic-violence charge after he struck his wife, Priscilla, during an alcohol-fueled argument.
After his guilty plea, Cruz Moreno spent 75 days in jail and then successfully completed domestic violence and drug and alcohol treatment courses. Following his release, he was detained by ICE on the grounds that he had committed a felony offense and opted for a voluntary departure from the U.S. in September 2002. By choosing a voluntary departure, he avoided a deportation note on his immigration file, which would have made it even more difficult for him to return to the U.S.
Priscilla and Cruz Moreno anticipated that he would only be gone for a short time and would be able to apply for lawful immigration status at the U.S. consulate in Honduras. But his petition to re-enter the U.S. was denied, so he returned to the country unlawfully.
Priscilla characterizes herself and Cruz Moreno as completely different people from who they were in 2000. They've become church-goers and have controlled their drinking issues.
"He’s such a good guy. My God, he’s so good. He’s not a perfect man, by no means. But he’s a good guy," says Priscilla.
Between Cruz Moreno's return to the U.S. and September 2018, the family kept a low profile and didn’t mention his immigration status to many people.
“Very few people knew. We were living with the fear, living very quietly,” says Priscilla.
That fear eventually came to fruition last September, when ICE agents went to the family's home and arrested Cruz Moreno as he was going to work. He's been in the Aurora immigration detention facility ever since.
"If I get deported, it's going to be really hard for all of us," he says.
His wife and stepdaughter have since been advocating the GEO Group, which operates the Aurora facility through a contract with ICE, to improve conditions at the center and have rallied politicians to reach out to the governor's office on Cruz Moreno's behalf.
Representative Alex Valdez says that he has spoken with the governor's office about the pardon request.
"My thoughts are with the family of Henry Cruz Moreno, [and] my office will continue to monitor the progress and hope for a favorable outcome," Valdez wrote in an email.
Senator Julie Gonzales, a strong advocate for immigrant rights, penned a letter on Cruz Moreno's behalf that she sent to Polis. In the letter, Gonzales focused on the deteriorating mental and physical health of some of Cruz Moreno's family.
“All of his family members depend on Mr. Cruz Moreno’s financial support, and he is also a key provider of support to his wife, who suffers from myriad ongoing health issues stemming from the complications of diabetes. Most concerning, however, is the fact that Mr. Cruz Moreno’s granddaughter recently attempted death by suicide for the second time, and that his prolonged detention has severely negatively impacted his granddaughter’s psychological and emotional wellbeing," Gonzales wrote.
Farah and Priscilla have also started a petition on Change.org to get Polis to accept his pardon request, gathering close to 5,000 signatures as of this writing. Former governor John Hickenlooper pardoned 156 individuals.
For its part, Governor Polis's office, which has received over seventy pardon and commutation requests, says it does not comment on pending applications.
The biggest knock against Cruz Moreno's pardon application is the most obvious one.
"The fact that it's a felony and domestic violence are two strikes against him," says Phil Cherner, a retired Denver lawyer who represented death row inmate Nathan Dunlap in an appeal of his death sentence. "The governor can do it. The question is, does the governor want to do it? Doubly so, if it's your first pardon. It strikes me as politically dicey."
But the family remains hopeful that Polis will pardon him.
"It’s killing him, it’s killing us. It’s horrible. It’s painful," says Priscilla.