By Bill Parry
While he spent much of June leading the effort to stop deportation proceedings against Carlos Humberto Cardona, a Jackson Heights resident who aided the cleanup at Ground Zero following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) was drafting legislation to protect the 1,000 to 2,000 undocumented immigrants who worked at the pile with Cardona.
On Sunday, Cardona stood by Crowley’s side on the steps of City Hall as the congressman announced his 9/11 Immigrant Worker Freedom Act, new federal legislation that would give Ground Zero recovery workers legal, permanent-resident status and allow them to continue living and receiving medical treatment in the United States, free from the threat of deportation.
“In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, these workers stepped up to provide critical services so our nation could begin to heal and rebuild,” Crowley said. “Countless individuals went to work at a long, hazardous and painful job of clearing up the destruction of the attacks. Yet many of them still lack legal immigration options and have lived in fear of deportation from the country they served. It is a great disservice and injustice to these immigrants who call our country home, and that’s why I’m announcing legislation to ensure our nation does right by them.”
Cardona was held for four months at an ICE detention center in New Jersey, facing deportation to his native Colombia due to a 1990 attempted drug sale conviction. He was released June 28, one week after Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued Cardona a pardon, making the grounds for his deportation no longer valid.
Cuomo based his pardon on Cardona’s four months of work removing hazardous material at Ground Zero, resulting in acute respiratory issues, depression, anxiety and PTSD which would not be adequately addressed in Colombia.
“It was something that I had to do for this great nation. It was my duty to be there,” Cardona said at City Hall. “If it would happen again, truly, they could count on me. I would be there.”
Cardona was released from ICE custody after his conviction was expunged, but his immigration case is still pending, so deportation is still a possibility. U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), a co-sponsor of Crowley’s bill, stood with Cardona at City Hall.
“At the time, we thanked each and every person who came here to help our city and our country in its moment of need. We cheered their work and their bravery,” Nadler said. “We called them what they were — heroes. The Trump administration refuses to recognize the heroism of Mr. Cardona, or so many of the men and women who worked beside him. They want to call him a criminal and deport him. We must never allow that to happen. This bill, which I am proud to introduce with Mr. Crowley, will ensure that those heroes are never treated the way Mr. Cardona was, regardless of who lives in the White House.”
The 9/11 Immigrant Worker Freedom Act will likely face an uphill battle with a Republican-controlled Congress and with the Trump administration’s on-going crackdown on illegal immigration. Crowley said the legislation does not have support from any Republican members of Congress.
Meanwhile, Crowley took umbrage with his colleagues across the aisle after the House Appropriations Committee released a bill Tuesday allocating $1.6 billion to begin construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.
“An expensive, ineffective wall along our southern border wasn’t sound policy when President Trump first proposed it, and House Republicans will make this campaign promise even worse by risking a government shutdown to fund it,” Crowley, the House Democratic Caucus Chairman, said. “Including allocations for this misguided wall in the appropriations process shows just how much Republicans are willing to risk our economic stability to give in to the worst proposals from this president. Our border is more secure than ever, and we shouldn’t push forward a border wall that will cost American taxpayers billions. Democrats have long said we will not support funding for a wall, so this proposal is setting the stage for a GOP-driven government shutdown.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr