New Yorkers who helped catch subway shooter in danger of being deported

·3 min read

Last month, as gunshots and smoke filled the air on an N train headed from Brooklyn to Manhattan, a 37-year-old mother who has asked to be identified only by her last name, Flores, started filming the situation on her phone.

Then she did something extraordinarily brave: she turned her phone and its footage over to police — despite the fact that she is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who has been subject to a deportation order for more than two decades.

Francisco Puebla, another undocumented immigrant who manages the Saifee Hardware and Garden store, was directing camera installers when the alleged shooter Frank James walked by. The workers alerted the police, leading to Mr James’ arrest.

Now, for their contributions to the cause of public safety, Ms Flores and Mr Puebla are facing trouble with immigration officials. Mr James’ attack inside the N train on 12 April left dozens of people injured. He has pleaded not guilty to counts of perpetrating a terrorist attack and violence against a mass transportation system.

Lawyers for the Ms Flores, who is pregnant with another child, and Mr Puebla told the New York Times that they are attempting to win them visas intended for victims, witnesses, and informants who aid law enforcement and are also investigating the possibility of their recieving humanitarian aid and political asylum.

It’s not just Ms Flores and Mr Puebla who could use assistance from US immigration authorities. Zack Tahhan, a Brooklyn-born Syrian-American who fled war in his native country, and Mohamad Cheikh, a Lebanese student, also have urgent concerns.

Mr Tahhan, who became a sensation for his exuberant retelling of his part in alerting police to Mr James’ presence near the store, is an American citizen. Many of his family members, however, are not. He is attempting to secure green cards for his parents and younger brother.

Mr Cheikh, meanwhile, told the Times that he is concerned his participation in the hunt for Mr James has put him on the radar of the militant anti-American organisation Hezbollah. Mr Cheikh’s laywer, Rifat A Harb, who is also representing Mr Tahhan, said that Mr Cheikh will be interrogated if he returns to Lebanon.

Mr Cheikh said that he would “love” to become a US citizen and bring his family to the country.

For some in New York, extending visas or citizenship status to the quartet who helped police arrest Mr James seems entirely warranted. All four were hailed as heroes, celebrated by Mayor Eric Adams at a ceremony at police headquarters. Mr Puebla was handed an official proclamation at a city event honoring Mexican Americans on Cinco de Mayo.

New York is a sanctuary city, and immigrants comprise nearly 40 per cent of the city’s population. Luis Gomez Alfaro, who represents the other two subway helpers, said that he wants the city to forcefully advocate for its residents who were involved in Mr James’ arrest — but that it hasn’t happened yet.

Ms Flores, for one, needs city support: she is applying for a U visa reserved for victims of violent crimes included attempted murder. The city must expidate her paperwork supporting her application for her to have a chance to recieve the visa.