Greenpoint residents are rallying to help the neighborhood’s most famous bike messenger — a native Uruguayan who could soon be deported because of a minor crime he committed a decade ago.
Pablo Airaldi, co-founder of Greenpoint Bikes and an urban racer, was taken into custody earlier this month in the latest twist in a long-delayed deportation case that has its roots in 2000, when Airaldi, then 18, pleaded guilty to stealing $2,000 worth of car parts in Indiana. He received a suspended sentence, but the aggrevated felony conviction remains on his record.
Airaldi put the matter out of his mind for years, until a trip to Canada in November, 2008, when he was briefly held by border police and told that he was deportable because of the then-eight-year-old crime.
He was not detained at that time, but allowed to remain free. But last month, the government seized him and sent him to an detention center in Hudson County, N.J., and resumed its deportation proceedings to send him back to South America, which he fled when he was 7.
Conditions inside the facility are deplorable.
“Try to ask for toilet paper and you are laughed at,” Airaldi, a legal permanent resident since 1991, wrote to friends. “We go months without feeling the sun, are forced to hand wash our underwear every night because we are only given one pair, go hungry if no one sends us money because the food is not enough and there is a 13-hour span from dinner to breakfast. Men begin to lose their sanity and then you can actually see them slip away, their light getting dimmer and dimmer with each indignity.”
Airaldi’s Manhattan Avenue bike repair shop opened in August, and he spent much of this time there readying the shop and fixing people’s bikes, falling asleep in the back of the store and waking up at 7 am to do work on the shop the next morning.
Customers and friends believed that he had turned his life around.
“He was really proud of the store,” said former roommate Becky Wise. “I’ve never seen him so happy in his entire life. That’s all he ever talked about.”
Airaldi’s friends were stunned when he was detained, given that the cyclist rarely even discussed his immigration status.
“I think he was freaked out about it and didn’t want to talk about it,” said Wise. “The situation is slowly going into a downward spiral. Nothing is getting better. It’s just getting worse and worse.”
Now they’re scrambling to save him.
Last Friday, friends organized a fundraiser at the Production Lounge, raising money to hire an immigration lawyer. There is also a petition on bicycle-centric sites such as bikeblognyc.com to raise awareness.
“Across the world people in the bike messenger community know Pablo,” said Wise. “He makes friends easily and has friends all over the place. He’s a very vibrant guy, you can’t forget him.”
Federal immigration authorities did not return calls for comment.
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