Carlos Humberto Cardona, an immigrant from Colombia who lives in New York City, helped to clear the hazardous rubble in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. According to the New York Daily News, he is now facing deportation proceedings for a 30-year-old criminal conviction.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents took Cardona into custody in February when he checked in with authorities for an attempted drug sale conviction in 1990. Following that conviction, Cardona received a removal order in May 2000, for which he has routinely showed up at an ICE field office to check in. Many immigrants check in on an annual basis with ICE when they may have a pending appeal or are a low-level priority for immigration enforcement.
His lawyer has since filed a legal action for a federal judge to request the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to expedite a decision on his 2014 marriage petition with his wife Liliana, a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Cardona has been held at the Hudson County Correctional Facility in New Jersey since his arrest.
“I can’t believe that this is happening to him after all of the sacrifices he has made. He says he feels like he’s being treated like a criminal,” Liliana told the Daily News. “He’s suffering from depression being locked up in there.”
“He’s very much an American,” Cardona’s attorney Rajesh Barua told the publication. “He’s scared of going back to Colombia. He doesn’t know how he’ll maintain a living and what kind of treatment he’ll have for respiratory problems, which are very real.”
Cardona fled Colombia for the United States at the age of 17 in 1986 after his two brothers, who served as police officers, were killed by anti-government rebels during his home country’s civil war.
Like so many people who were in downtown New York City in fall 2001, Cardona reportedly has lung and gastrointestinal problems from the rubble and debris, his wife told the publication. He also has psychological issues including anxiety, an all-too common issue among survivors.
Cardona’s detention was part of a sweeping wave of tens of thousands of arrests under the Trump administration’s first 100 days. Whether Cardona wanted recognition for his efforts to help with cleanup on 9/11 is unknown. But what is increasingly becoming clear is that immigrants with decades-old criminal convictions — for which many have already served out prison terms — are being taken into custody following President Donald Trump’s executive orders broadening the categories of immigrants who are priorities for deportation. On the heels of that executive order, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has harshly cracked down on undocumented immigrants without any criminal violations, people suspected of having “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense,” and others who may have prior removal orders.
Cardona’s detention also sheds some light on the role of immigrants during recovery efforts. Immigrants, including those who are undocumented, have long took part in cleaning up and rebuilding cities after terrorist attacks like 9/11 and after disasters like Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But more than a decade on, they still have not been paid for their efforts to remove debris and mold.
Update: On Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a pardon to Cardona so that he could reopen the final order of removal showing that the grounds for his deportation are no longer valid. Cardona will now be able to plead his case to stay in the United States.
“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,” Governor Cuomo said in a press release. “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.”