A Queens man put his health on the line to help remove hazardous material from Ground Zero — and now immigration authorities want him removed from the country over a 30-year-old criminal case.
Carlos Humberto Cardona, 48, was one of the approximately 41,300 that ICE agents took into custody during the first 100 days of the Trump administration. But Cardona’s fighting to get out, and stay out, with a Brooklyn federal lawsuit and a state clemency bid.
“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,” Cardona’s wife Liliana told the Daily News. “He’s suffering from depression being locked up in there.”
Cardona didn’t think twice about being part of the 9/11 clean-up effort, according to her.
“He inhaled fumes (at the World Trade Center site). His health ended up being affected. He has lung problems. He has gastrointestinal problems. He has psychological issues. He has a lot of anxiety,” she said.
“He’s very much an American,” Rajesh Barua, Cardona’s attorney, told the Daily News. “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.”
This week, Barua filed a legal action asking a Brooklyn federal judge to make the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services hurry and decide a basic 2014 application verifying his marriage to Liliana, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen.
An approved application is just a necessary first step in an attempt at residency, Barua noted.
Cardona also has a pending clemency application with New York State, filed in April.
“I certainly think the circumstances warrant a pardon,” Barua said.
Liliana said her future husband fled to the United States in 1986 at age 17. His two older brothers were policemen who’d been killed by anti-government rebels when Colombia was deep in a decades-long civil war.
“His life was in danger,” Liliana said.
In 1990, Cardona pleaded guilty to an attempted drug sale count.
“He was standing next to a friend when that happened. It wasn’t his,” his wife said.
Cardona had had no convictions since.
In May 2000, authorities entered a removal order based on the conviction. The order was over his head during his months of Ground Zero clean-up work through Milro Construction. It stayed with him as he raised his now 19-year-old daughter, Jiselle, and married Liliana in 2013, after a long courtship.
Last year, Jiselle wished her dad a happy Father’s Day on Facebook, writing: “You don’t know how much I appreciate you.”
In April 2011, ICE agents arrested Cardona, but let him go the same day. They put him on an order of supervision, which Barua explained, was like being on supervised release with required periodic check-ins.
According to court papers, Cardona got the order of supervision because of his “chronic respiratory problems caused by his time as a recovery worker.”
ICE revoked the supervision order earlier this year, following Trump’s January executive order pledging “all appropriate actions” to detain immigrants facing deportation.
An ICE spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
Cardona was taken into custody during a February check-in with immigration authorities and has been held at Hudson County Correctional Facility in New Jersey.
Liliana remembered the cold day when he told her about the check-in.
“He called me and said, I have to go to court and check in. He had gone so many times,” she recalled. “He told me he wanted to fix his immigration status. … He didn’t come home that day. He was taken to a detention center in New Jersey. He doesn’t deserve this treatment. I just want to see him back home.”