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Immigrant Ground Zero recovery worker who faces deportation for 1990 drug crime receives clemency

NEW YORK  — A former ground zero worker has filed a legal challenge to his pending deportation to Colombia after receiving a pardon from Gov. Andrew Cuomo  on a 1990 drug conviction.

Carlos Cardona, 48, was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in February. Cuomo pardoned him Wednesday – Cardona was convicted of a non-violent crime in 1990.

“Mr. Cardona spent the last 27 years proving his rehabilitation, but he has been detained because of a rash, ultra-conservative policy,” Cuomo said. “I hope this action reunites him with his family, and sends a message about fairness and equality, values that this state was founded upon.”

Cardona entered the U.S. illegally in 1986. His conviction for the attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance put him in the crosshairs of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. The agency has ramped up their activities since President Trump took office.

Cuomo’s pardon on the conviction is seen as a way to challenge deportation.

Cardona worked as a recovery worker after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. He suffers from acute respiratory issues, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“He assisted with Ground Zero recovery efforts at the expense of his own health,” Cuomo said.

Cardona came to the U.S. as a teenager. His brother worked as a police officer in Colombia and gangs targeted Cardona’s family because of his brother’s job.

He spent four months as a cleanup and hazmat recovery worker rehabilitating Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Cardona’s wife, an American citizen, is also a 9/11 recovery worker. Their 19-year-old daughter is in college studying to become an elementary school teacher.

“He has built a family and given back to his community,” Cuomo said.

An ICE spokeswoman has declined to comment on the case.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.