New York Congressional Democrats Push to Legalize Undocumented 9/11 Workers

Carlos Cardona, center at podium, an undocumented worker who assisted at Ground Zero after 9/11.Julie Walker / AP

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By Cristian Benavides

The day after 9/11, Carlos Cardona said he felt a duty to go to Ground Zero and help.

“It was something I felt I needed to do,” he said, “I felt proud to be there.”

Cardona was one of 6,000 workers and volunteers who worked on the rescue, cleanup and recovery efforts during the aftermath.

No one ever asked for his immigration status. But it turns out Mr. Cardona was undocumented.

Up to two thousand workers who worked at Ground Zero are estimated to have been undocumented immigrants. A group of House Democrats from New York, including several Latino legislators, are sponsoring a bill to grant residency to those who lacked legal status but worked on the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

Carlos Cardona, center at podium, an undocumented worker who assisted at Ground Zero after 9/11, stands with Jerry Nadler, representing parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, left, Queens Congressman Joseph Crowley, second left, Cardona; Nydia Velazquez, 7th District of New York, second from right and Adriano Espaillat, right, representing upper Manhattan during a news conference at City HallJulie Walker / AP

The bill, the 9/11 Immigrant Worker Freedom Act, follows a successful effort by Rep. Joseph Crowley D-NY, to release Cardona from an ICE detention facility earlier this year.

At a recent press conference, Crowley and Cardona joined other legislators to announce their bill.

“They served our country when we needed a hand,” said at a press conference, “instead of gratitude, they’re being shown the door.”

Related: Immigrant Ground Zero Worker Awaiting Deportation Granted Clemency by Governor

In 1990 Cardona pleaded guilty to a drug offense, which has prevented him to be able to legalize his immigration status. He was issued an order of deportation in 2001 after failing to show up to a court hearing.

He was able to stay because he was receiving medical treatment under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, which grants medical benefits to all the workers and volunteers who aided in the aftermath of 9/11, regardless of immigration status.

When President Trump’s administration changed the guidelines for deportation, Cardona became a priority. He was detained in late February at a routine checkup but released on June 28 after receiving a pardon from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for his earlier drug offense.

His case, however, is still being processed and Cardona could still face deportation.

“I feel very proud to be part of this great nation,” said Cardona, “it’s not fair that now, when we need the government’s help they are turning their back on us.”

Related: Endless Attack: Sick 9/11 Responders Still Struggle to Get By

The bill’s sponsors include Reps. Nydia Velázquez, who represents Brooklyn and Adriano Espaillat and Jerrold Nadler, who represent Manhattan. The Democratic legislators hope to achieve bipartisan support.

“I came to this country and I overstayed my visa and now I’m a member of Congress,” said Rep. Espaillat, who is the first Dominican American elected to Congress. “I don’t see why people like Cardona should not be given their green card.”

Cardona’s daughter, who is a U.S .citizen, hoped to appeal to Pres. Trump, a fellow New Yorker.

“How did you feel that day? Did you help? Did you volunteer?” said Giselle Cardona, 20. “Our undocumented immigrants are not given the same privilege to stay here. Yet, they sacrificed their life and their health because they love this country.”

“When many people decided to flee New York because they were scared of what could happen next,” Ms. Cardona said of the days following the attacks, “they stepped up to the plate and they said: I’m here to help.”

Mr. Cardona said he faces many health issues due to the work he did at Ground Zero in the days following Sept. 11.

“We had to be there for this great nation,” Cardona said. “We didn’t think about the risks that it would take on our health.”

Even so, Cardona said that if there was another catastrophic event in the U.S.,“You can count on me.”

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