New York Times
By Sarah Maslin Nir
June 21, 2017
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo waded into the debate on immigration policy on Wednesday when he pardoned a Colombian undocumented immigrant facing deportation for a crime that was decades old. The act may have effectively erased the rationale for the man’s removal by eliminating his criminal conviction.
The man, Carlos Cardona, 48, entered the United States illegally by crossing the border with Mexico. He is a co-owner of a construction business in Queens, and he was a volunteer after the World Trade Center attacks, sifting through and clearing out the rubble at ground zero. The time he spent in the debris resulted in a severe lung condition from which he still suffers, his lawyer, Rajesh Barua, said. As a young man, according to Mr. Barua, Mr. Cardona briefly fell in with a rough crowd, and in 1990 he pleaded guilty to selling a small amount of cocaine to an undercover officer, a crime for which he spent 45 days in jail.
That conviction precluded him from obtaining legal status over the 31 years he has lived New York City, although he is married to a United States citizen. After he missed a court date for an immigration hearing in 2001, an order was issued for his deportation by the Department of Homeland Security’s department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
But because his illness stems from his volunteering in Lower Manhattan, which earned him medical care through a federal program for those sickened by the aftermath of the attacks, the department permitted him to stay. He was required to check in periodically with the immigration authorities.
On Feb. 28, just days after the Trump administration issued a memorandum that said the removal of undocumented immigrants convicted of a crime was a priority, Mr. Cardona was detained at a check-in at Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan. He has been in detention since then; he is now at Hudson Correctional Facility in Kearny, N.J. He is just one of a number of people with similar histories whom the administration has moved to deport in recent months.
The governor’s pardon came after Mr. Cardona applied to a clemency program that was revitalized by Mr. Cuomo over the last two years. Since 2015, the government has spread the word, pitching the program to lawyers and advocacy organizations as a possible way to thwart deportation for those with old convictions. Since Mr. Trump’s election, applications have increased, Alphonso David, the governor’s counsel, said.
Mr. Cardoza was fast-tracked, Mr. David said, partly because returning to him Colombia would put him at risk. Not only would it prevent him from getting the treatment he needs, but two of his brothers, one a police officer, were murdered there by gang members.
“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 an emailed statement. “It is my hope this action will not only reunite Mr. Cardona with his wife and daughter, but also sends a message about the values of fairness and equality that New York was founded upon.”
Since 2013, the governor has granted seven pardons explicitly to remove the threat of deportation, according to his office. Mr. Cardona’s pardon is the first since the president’s new priorities were issued.
The decision does not automatically nullify the deportation order for Mr. Cardona, said Mr. Barua, who must now petition ICE to drop the order. But with his record newly expunged, he said, there should be no grounds to continue the removal.
Alina Das, an associate professor of clinical law at New York University School of Law and co-director of its Immigrant Rights Clinic, said state governors have tremendous power to insert themselves into the deportation process. “Some of these are people who would be allowed to stay here under previous administrations. Now that kind of discretion is harder to come by,” she said. “What the pardon process does is give someone a chance to be heard, about their life, and what they’ve done after their conviction to redeem themselves.”
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