By Bill Parry
A former Ground Zero worker from Jackson Heights who was facing imminent deportation over a non-violent conviction nearly three decades ago walked out of a New Jersey correctional facility Wednesday afternoon.
The Department of Homeland Security released Carlos Humberto Cardona, 48, one week after Gov. Andrew Cuomo pardoned him for the 1990 conviction and just hours after U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) launched a nationwide petition to stop his deportation.
Cardona was released from ICE custody on an Order of Supervision and he will be required to check-in periodically pending the outcome of his immigration case which remains ongoing but Cardona will no longer be detained as the case is processed.
. Cardona’s attorney, Rajesh Barua, spoke with him briefly following his release.
“We are really happy about his release and he is currently arranging to meet his wife and daughter,” Barua said. “Now we are in the process of getting him a green card and we are very concerned about his medical condition.”
Cardona suffers from acute respiratory issues, depression, anxiety and PTSD after clearing hazardous materials from Ground Zero in the months following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Cardona’s medical condition was the impetus behind Cuomo issuing the pardon because the governor said his “health issues would not be adequately addressed in Colombia.”
Cardona was convicted of attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance in 1990 as a 21-year-old in Queens. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1986 to escape drug cartel violence in Colombia where his brother served as a police officer and his family faced threats from gangs.
Crowley sent a letter last week to the DHS Secretary John Kelly, ICE and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services urging them to stop deportation efforts.
“This is a positive step forward in Mr. Cardona’s case. Deporting him would have sent the wrong message, not just to immigrants who call our country home, but to all who would help when their country calls on them,” Crowley said. “We must now turn our efforts to assisting Mr. Cardona in gaining legal permanent residence. It’s the least we can do for a man who helped New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I urge the Department of Homeland Security to review his case so that Mr. Cardona can remain in the U.S. permanently and to stop this unfair pattern of attacks on hardworking immigrants.”
Crowley is drafting legislation to ensure that each and every 9/11 cleanup worker is able to continue living and receiving medical treatment in the United States, free from the threat of deportation.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) sent a letter to President Trump Tuesday requesting that no foreign-born person recruited into the U.S. Armed Forces be deported as a result of a reported policy change recommendation within the U.S. Department of Defense. In 2009, the DOD began the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest program to recruit foreign-born individuals whose skills are considered vital to the national interest. On Monday, the Washington Post reported that the Pentagon is considering canceling enlistment contracts for 1,000 MAVNI recruits which could lead to deportation.
“MAVNI recruits have contractually agreed to place their lives on the line to protect every American citizen,” Meng wrote. “I feel it is only right that we honor our contract with them, and that we allow these individuals to continue to live in America once their service has concluded. They are exactly the type of individuals who will continue to make America great.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr