MANHATTAN, New York - Carlos Humberto Cardona, a Hispanic man who did cleanup work at the World Trade Center after the September 11, 2001 attacks, was released this week after four months in immigration custody.
In February, the 48-year-old Colombian was arrested by ICE and placed in deportation proceedings due to a 27-year-old charge for selling drugs for which he pleaded guilty in 1990. He has had a spotless record since then.
Cardona, who suffers from pulmonary complications due to the soot and dust that he inhaled from hazardous waste during his Ground Zero work at the site of the twin towers, told Univision that he struggled with breathing difficulties while in detention.
"They should be more aware, more compassionate, especially towards those people who have served this great nation to some degree," he said.
Cardona remains under an ICE supervision order and it remains unclear why he was suddenly released. ICE did not return calls seeking an explanation.
After his arrest his daughter and wife launched a legal fight to allow him to stay in the United States.
Last week, New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo granted Carmona clemency. The Cardona family's local congressman, Democrat Joseph Crowley also plans to introduce a bill next week to grant special consideration to undocumented immigrants who helped clear hazardous materials at Ground Zero.
Cardona was part of a cleanup team from Milro Services, a construction firm that helped clear the debris in south Manhattan and was later sued by some of its workers for not paying overtime.
“He’s very much an American,” Rajesh Barua, Cardona’s attorney, told The New York Daily News. Barua filed a lawsuit earlier this month asking a federal judge in Brooklyn to urge the Department of Homeland Security and Citizenship and Immigration Services to expediate their respond to a 2014 request by Cardona seeking to verify his marriage to his wife Liliana, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen.
"A post 9/11 cleanup Volunteer should NOT get deported. Especially if he is sick. Don't just kick out my dad and then not even help him with treatment expenses," his daughter Giselle Cardona, 19, wrote on Facebook about her father's case.
"My father has always been a family man, always provided for us even after my parents divorced," she wrote on gofundme.com "I am his only child, and I can't imagine not having my father by my side every step of the way. My father is just as American as the next guy."
Cardona arrived in the United States aged 17 in 1986. Since 2000, he has faced a deportation order based on his drug conviction. Last February he was arrested during a regular appointment with immigration authorities. He has since been held in a New Jersey detention center.
"I certainly think the circumstances warrant a pardon," Barua said.
His wife told the The New York Daily News, that her husband is depressed. "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," she told the newspaper. "He says he feels he's being treated like a criminal."