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updated 5/3/2010 2:19:58 PM ET 2010-05-03T18:19:58

New York state's governor said Monday said he will create a panel to help selected immigrants with criminal convictions avoid deportation under "harsh" federal laws.

Gov. David Paterson said New York would be the first U.S. state to create a "pardon panel" aimed specifically at investigating requests of legal immigrants facing deportation because of a past convictions. Paterson said he would pardon immigrants who meet criteria such as rehabilitation and a lack of danger to society.

The Democrat is seeking to combat what he calls harsh and rigid federal measures that result in deporting of immigrants who have shown considerable rehabilitation.

New York's measure comes as the country is embroiled in conflict over an Arizona law that critics say would encourage racial profiling. Arizona's measure makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally. It directs local police to question people about immigration status and demand to see their documents if there is reason to suspect they are in the U.S. illegally.

Paterson said he will seek to use a governor's pardon as a tool to blunt what he called the rigid federal rules for deportation even of immigrants who have successfully engaged in a new life in America.

"To be sure, there are some individuals whose crimes are egregious or who pose a threat to public safety," Paterson said, according to prepared remarks. "And they are justly removed from the United States. But there are others for whom the situation is far less clear. For them, our national immigration laws leave no room to consider mitigating circumstances. But in New York, we believe in rehabilitation. And we believe in renewal. And we believe in second chances."

In March, Paterson pardoned Quing Wu, an executive and Chinese immigrant who as a teenager was convicted of a mugging.

"After completing his sentence, finding a job, becoming engaged and living as a productive member of society, he applied to become a United States citizen," Paterson said. "Because of his convictions, Mr. Wu was detained for months and set for deportation to China, a country he left when he was 5 years old and to which he has no connection. To correct this injustice, I pardoned Quing Wu. He had paid his debt."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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