A grandmother-of-14 has received the first full, unconditional pardon given in Minnesota in 35 years.
On Monday, the Minnesota Board of Pardons voted to pardon Maria Elizondo for two crimes for which she was convicted in 2012.
Elizondo, now 61, pleaded guilty to wrongfully obtaining assistance and identity theft, and received 12- and 13-month sentences, which were stayed for 10 years provided she paid back the money she fraudulently obtained and remained on probation during that time.
The pardon was approved unconditionally now that Elizondo has paid back the full balance she owed the state, which she achieved with the help of her son as well as a GoFundMe campaign.
Per a report to the Board of Pardons, Elizondo received almost $25,000 in food stamps and cash assistance benefits from Norman County and reported that she didn't have any other income, despite being employed at a local turkey farm under the name "Natalia Rubio."
Further investigation found she had provided a social security number and an alien registration card belonging to two other people. She and her attorney argued that she did this because she needed the money to feed her children, and was at risk of losing her home.
She said she was suffering depression at the time, and had come under increasing economic strain when one of her sons, Jorge, joined the National Guard and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2006, and she relied upon him for income.
Her attorney told the board she was seeking a pardon to avoid deportation to Mexico so she can remain in the U.S. with her seven children and 14 grandchildren.
The pardon, he argued, would allow her to apply to cancel her removal order, or change her status under immigration law. She could also be eligible for "Parole in Place" as the mother of an actively enlisted U.S. military reservist.
The attorney also noted that she is suffering from several medical conditions including uterine cancer, depression, anxiety, and obesity, and her deportation would have a significant impact on her family, including financial impacts due to her help providing childcare, and the need to send money to her in Mexico.
Elizondo came to the U.S. when she was 17 years old, living initially in Laredo, Texas, where she "suffered physical and psychological abuse from her then-partner," a report for the Board of Pardons said. She moved to Minnesota in 1998.
The Minnesota Board of Pardons comprises the Minnesota Governor, the Attorney General, and the Chief Justice, currently Tim Walz, Keith Ellison, and Lorie Gildea respectively.