CONCORD, N.H. – A New Hampshire auto shop owner facing deportation to Lebanon for crimes committed 14 years ago has been denied a pardon that would have allowed him to remain in the country.
Alain Ata, 34, came to the U.S. with his family at age 10. He spent several years in prison for a pair of burglaries in December 2004. Since then he has opened an auto shop in Manchester. He takes care of his elderly parents and is engaged to be married. He told Gov. Chris Sununu and the governor's Executive Council last week that he is an honest man with a good heart who has been punished enough for mistakes in his youth.
But the five-member council denied his request Wednesday on a vote of 3-1. Councilor Russell Prescott, a Republican, abstained from voting in protest over the council's refusal to delay the vote by several weeks so he could gather more information. Prescott said earlier in the meeting that he supported the pardon.
"It's hard to get things right all the time," he said. "I believe he has paid his debt to society."
While Ata's request comes at a time when the Trump administration has been cracking down on illegal immigration, federal immigration officials started deportation proceedings in his case years ago. Ata's lawyer said he essentially has remained on "immigration probation" because Lebanon officials haven't submitted the necessary paperwork yet.
Councilor Andru Volinsky, a Democrat, said that while U.S. immigration policies have many shortcomings, Ata was undeserving of a pardon because of his behavior since leaving prison, including causing serious injury in a drunken driving crash and violating a domestic violence protective order by contacting an ex-girlfriend and mother of his child. According to a county prosecutor, that woman's stepfather was the victim of one of the burglaries.
Ata declined to speak to reporters after the vote, saying only "thank you." During his hearing last week, he asked for a second chance, and said he lives in fear of losing everything he has worked so hard to achieve.
"If I were to be deported I would be torn from everything I love, the business I built, my daughter and my fiancée who means the world to me. I wouldn't be here to support my family and I would end up in a country I left as a 10-year-old," he said. "A country where I have no friends, no family and a grim future."
His sister broke down in tears as she described the prospect of her brother being sent back to a war-torn, poverty-stricken country. Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory saying U.S. citizens should reconsider or avoid travel to certain areas of Lebanon because of the threats of terrorism, armed clashes, kidnapping and outbreaks of violence.
"My brother will have zero chance at survival," Della Khoury said."