A Gambian father of five who’s been locked away in a detention facility since January caught a break Thursday when Gov. Cuomo agreed to pardon him of his past crimes on the eve of a crucial federal court deportation hearing, the Daily News has learned.
Baba Sillah, 47, who’s lived in the U.S. since 1993, was taken into custody by ICE after a routine check-in in lower Manhattan on Jan. 31, and was nearly put on a plane to his native Gambia in West Africa Feb. 25 when his lawyers filed a stay of deportation.
On Friday morning, Cuomo is expected to issued him a pardon, wiping out his criminal convictions for a string of arrests stemming back to when he worked as an unlicensed clothes vendor in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“He has a job, he pays his taxes, ” said Alphonso David, Cuomo’s chief counsel. “This individual has been crime-free for more than a decade. He contributes to society.”
Baba came to the U.S. at age 22, fleeing his oppressive father, David told The News. He wasn’t allowed to work, so he started selling clothes and other items in Manhattan to make ends meet. That led him to be arrested on several misdemeanor charges, said Cuomo’s office.
He eventually got work authorization from ICE, and has worked as a building porter on the Upper East Side since 2004. He lives in the Bronx with his wife and five children, who are U.S. citizens.
“While President Trump is obsessed with building walls to keep immigrants out, the New York family knows that its diversity is our strength,” Cuomo said. “Compassion and justice is the Empire State way and Mr. Sillah is a father of five who deserves to remain with his family.”
Sillah is scheduled to appear before a judge in Manhattan federal court at 3 p.m. Friday, and David hopes the pardon will end the federal government’s deportation efforts.
“The basis for the deportation is the state convictions,” David said. “One the government grants him that pardon, that can no longer serve as a basis to deport him.”
Cuomo has issued about 50 similar pardons in response to Trump’s immigration policies, David said.
Earlier this month, Sillah’s family joined members of his union, 32BJ SEIU, immigration advocates and elected officials to call for his release.
“We miss Baba very much and want him back home,” his wife, Mamou Drame said. “We were so upset. I had to stop working because I no longer had Baba to help me take care of the kids.”
Hector Figueroa, the head of Sillah’s union, praised Cuomo “for issuing a pardon and showing immigration authorities what we know, that Baba Sillah is a hardworking New Yorker who belongs back with his family. We will continue to support him and his family until he is returned home to his wife and kids who depend on him.”
In a statement released to Patch.com, ICE said Sillah was first ordered to leave the U.S. in 1999 and was taken into custody before, in 2011, but the agency couldn’t obtain the travel documents needed to deport him. An ICE spokesperson said he had criminal convictions, but didn’t specify what he was convicted of, Patch.com reported.
Sources said his cases largely disorderly conduct and unlicensed vending, and the most severe sentence he served was 15 days in jail.
He got a stay of deportation Feb. 25, after lawyers with the New Sanctuary Coalition filed a writ of habeas corpus on his behalf. The group, which is based in Judson Memorial Church in the West Village, sends volunteers to accompany undocumented immigrants to their ICE check-ins and court hearings.
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