Carlos Humberto Cardona, a Queens resident who fled Colombia in 1986 after his family faced threats from gangs, has been held in a detention center since February after attending a routine U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement appointment.
On June 21, Governor Andrew Cuomo pardoned Cardona, 48, who is currently being held at the Hudson Correctional Facility in Kearny, N.J. and applied for clemency in New York in April. The pardon allows Cardona’s attorney to prove that the grounds for deporting him are no longer valid.
Cardona, who is from Santiago de Cali, Colombia, left the country after his police officer brother was threatened by local gangs for being involved in law enforcement. When he was 21, Cardona was convicted of attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance.
His wife, Liliana Cardona, told the Daily News that he was standing next to a friend when the incident happened and that the drugs were not his. He has no other convictions.
Cardona worked as a cleanup and hazmat recovery worker rehabilitating Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks for four months. He married Liliana Cardona in 2013, who was also a recovery worker and and American citizen. They have a 19-year-old daughter who is in college studying education.
After working at Ground Zero, Cardona suffered acute respiratory issues, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. His wife told the Daily News that moving back to Colombia would mean Cardona would not get the proper medical care he needed.
“He inhaled fumes [at Ground Zero],” she said. “His health ended up being affected. He has lung problems. He has gastrointestinal problems. He has psychological issues. He has a lot of anxiety.”
In a statement, Cuomo said he granted the clemency because Cardona gave back to his country at “the expense of his own health.”
“In the more than 30-years since Carlos Cardona has lived in this country, he has built a family and given back to his community, including in the aftermath of 9/11 when he assisted with Ground Zero recovery efforts at the expense of his own health,” Cuomo said. “It is my hope this action will not only reunite Mr. Cardona with his wife and daughter, but also send a message about the values of fairness and equality that New York was founded upon.”
The governor can grant commutations and pardons under the New York Constitution and State law and since 2011, he has granted 115 pardons.
Before Cuomo’s pardon, Congressman Joseph Crowley sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, asking them to reconsider their decision.
“Deporting Mr. Cardona would send a chilling message not just to the immigrants who call our country home, but to all who would help when their country calls on them,” he said. “Mr. Cardona is deserving of our thanks – not the cold shoulder.”
Crowley added that he is working on legislation to ensure that all 9/11 cleanup workers can continue living and receiving medical treatment in the U.S. without fear of being deported.