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Immigrant Ground Zero Worker Awaiting Deportation Granted Clemency by Governor

An undocumented immigrant who got ill after working in the cleanup of Ground Zero after the nation's Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack faced deportation for a non-violent crime, but was granted clemency by New York's governor.

Carlos Cardona, 48, was convicted of attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance twenty seven years ago, in 1990. He remains in custody since February, after being arrested by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

Cardona, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1986, was pardoned by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday in an effort to invalidate his grounds for deportation.

Image:New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a rally, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2017, in New York.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a rally, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2017, in New York. Mary Altaffer / AP

Gov. Cuomo praised Cardona for giving back to his community "at the expense of his own health."

"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,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Image: Ground Zero Clean-up Ahead of Schedule
File photo of Ground Zero during cleanup efforts, in 2002. Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Cardona worked as a cleanup and hazmat worker at Ground Zero following the 9/11 attacks and now suffers from acute respiratory issues, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder because of his recovery efforts, illnesses that would not be adequately addressed in his native country of Colombia, according to Cuomo’s office.

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In May 2000, Cardona was issued a Final Order of Removal. Years later, he enrolled in ICE’s Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP), part of the agency’s Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program, which allowed him to remain in the U.S. with routine check-ins. It was at one of these check-ins that Cardona was detained on Feb. 28, days after the Department of Homeland Security issued a memorandum prioritizing the deportation of undocumented immigrants convicted of a crime.

A spokesperson for ICE told NBC News that clemency does not automatically void the Final Order of Removal. However, now that Cardona’s record is expunged, he can petition to the Board of Immigration Appeals in an attempt to get the order dropped.

Several groups, including the Hispanic Federation, Fortune Society and New York State Bar Association, supported Cuomo’s action.

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Joanne Macri, Chair of the Immigrant Committee of the New York State Bar Association, commended the governor for pardoning someone “with no other means of relief from the life-altering consequences of a criminal conviction.”

“[Gov. Cuomo’s] act supports Mr. Cardona’s efforts to remain in New York, alongside his wife and children, in the community which has served as his home for more than 30 years, and with access to life-saving healthcare not available in Colombia,” said Macri.

Rajesh Barua, Cardona’s attorney, told NBC News his client filed a Stay of Removal Thursday morning, which temporarily postpones his deportation. The request is currently pending.

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