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Gioia leads rally to help immigrant

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City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) and close to 100 Queens residents rallied outside City Hall Saturday in support of a pillar of the Woodside community who is facing what elected officials are calling an unjust deportation.

Jorge Mesa, who has lived in Woodside for 43 years, was arrested in mid-August by officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and now sits in a New Jersey detention facility — where he ushered in his 52nd birthday Tuesday.

“For over two decades, Jorge’s been a fixture in Woodside,” Gioia said. “His case clearly shows why we need to have comprehensive immigration reform that doesn’t criminalize people. The U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals should not deport Jorge and he should be reunited with his family.”

Christina Hall, Mesa’s attorney, said he was arrested following a misunderstanding on his green card.

“Jorge Mesa has been here legally since he was a child and knows no other country,” Hall said. “He is a man of integrity, a good supportive father and future husband to the mother of his son. He is known as the mayor of Woodside because of his dependability and full-hearted participating in civic affairs in Woodside.”

Mesa, who moved from Colombia to the United States with permanent resident status when he was 8, owns a painting business in Woodside and is the father of a 15-month-old. He is involved in numerous volunteer activities in the borough, including working with children with disabilities. Mesa has also been active with fund-raising for the families of Sept. 11 victims.

Mesa’s legal troubles stem from the time he served from 1981-83 for a drug-related felony. Hall said Mesa has since attended a rehabilitation program and has been anti-drug for more than 26 years.

Mesa was ordered deported in 1991 by an immigration judge. The decision was appealed, which Mesa mistook for meaning he still had his permanent resident visa, otherwise known as a green card.

When Mesa went to renew his green card in 2008, officials told Hall he was supposed to have been deported in 1991 because the appeal was denied, but Mesa was never informed of the denial.

Hall filed a motion to reopen the appeal, soon after which Mesa was arrested. A stay of deportation was recently granted, allowing Mesa to remain in the country until the Board of Immigration Appeals makes a decision on his case.

Besides Gioia, Mesa’s case has brought an outpouring of support from numerous elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights).

Woodside resident Jaime Mesa said his brother’s entire family, especially his fiancée Olga Celis, is having a difficult time in Jorge Mesa’s absence.

“My brother stayed home every night with the baby while his fiancée went to school for speech pathology classes,” Jaime Mesa said. “He was the sole breadwinner because she took care of the baby during the day and went to school at night.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

Posted 6:28 pm, October 10, 2011
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