A hardworking Gambian immigrant pardoned by Gov. Cuomo for past minor crimes was released from federal lockup Friday after federal officials agreed to drop their deportation effort.
Baba Sillah, 47, who last month was moments away from being flown back to his native country, was reunited with his family Friday night at the Brooklyn headquarters of the New Sanctuary Organization, an immigrant rights group.
His family ran joyously into his arms as he walked into the center at about 9 p.m. “Welcome home Baba!” said a relative as he held two little girls in his arms.
Mamou Drame, Sillah’s wife, and four of their five children, ages 10 months to 16 years, and nieces and nephew waited at the center for hours for his arrival.
He plans to stay in New York while he applies for legal immigration status.
Sillah himself had no idea he’d been pardoned until this afternoon around 3 when he was called out of his cell and told he had to go to the ICE office.
“When I got there they say sit down, and they give me the paper and they say ‘Sign this’. I say ‘If I sign, what is it about?’ They say ‘You’re going to go home today’.”
“I went back to my cell and I told everybody what happened, and everybody was clapping for me.”
He called his wife for the first time since he’d been in detention and let her know it would probably be after the weekend because it was late in the day.
“She said ‘You’re going to leave today’.”
“I am deeply relieved that Mr. Baba Sillah, an immigrant father from the Bronx, will be released from federal custody this evening after I granted him clemency for low-level, non-violent offenses that occurred over a decade ago,” Cuomo said in a statement earlier Friday.
“Mr. Baba Sillah’s detention by ICE threatened to take him from his wife and five children and was a profound injustice that undermined everything we believe in this country,” the governor said after immigration officials announced they would release him.
“In New York we stand with the immigrant community and subscribe to compassion and justice. While President Trump tries to build his wall and tear communities apart, we will always strive to uphold the values embodied by the Lady in our Harbor,” Cuomo added.
Sillah has lived in the U.S. for the last 26 years after fleeing his oppressive father in 1992 at the age of 22. When he arrived in the states he wasn’t allowed to work, so he started selling clothes in Manhattan to survive. This led to his arrest for unlicensed vending and disorderly conduct — crimes that would have netted him no more than 15 days in jail.
In 2004, he got a job as a building porter on the Upper East Side and joined the 32BJ SEIU union and started raising a family in the Bronx.