Albanian Immigrant Takes Refuge In Detroit Church To Avoid Deportation
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Today, an Albanian immigrant who has been here in the United States for 17 years is scheduled to be deported. Since his arrival in the U.S., Ded Rranxburgaj has tried to get legal status here. In 2007, he received a temporary protected status because he was the sole caregiver for his wife, who has multiple sclerosis. The temporary status was revoked last October, and he was ordered to return to Albania. He did not. Instead, Rranxburgaj took refuge along with his wife and his two sons in Detroit's Central United Methodist Church. And we reached the minister there, Reverend Jill Zundel.
JILL ZUNDEL: We follow Jesus, who said, you know, I was a stranger, and you took me in. And the Old Testament is full of giving kindness to foreigners and sojourners. And so that's our call. And when anyone is threatened, we feel like we need to protect them, even if they're threatened by our own government. And we declared ourselves a sanctuary church, actually, in 2017, in January.
GREENE: And can you just - Ded's last name - could you just pronounce it for me?
ZUNDEL: Ded's last name is...
DED RRANXBURGAJ: Rranxburgaj.
ZUNDEL: Rranxburgaj. So...
GREENE: Rranxburgaj. Is that him?
ZUNDEL: Yes. He's here in the room.
GREENE: Could I chat with him for one moment...
ZUNDEL: You sure can.
GREENE: ...And then come back to you?
ZUNDEL: Oh, sure. Hold on one second.
RRANXBURGAJ: Hello. My name is Ded Rranxburgaj.
GREENE: Well, it's nice to talk to you. How are you holding up?
RRANXBURGAJ: It's - you know, I got very bad situation. My wife has been sick from like, 11 years.
GREENE: And your wife has multiple sclerosis. Is that right?
GREENE: How - what's her condition right now?
RRANXBURGAJ: It's very, very, very bad.
GREENE: I understand that you were cooperating with ICE for a very long time but then decided not to go to a scheduled meeting with them a few days ago. Why did you decide not to go?
RRANXBURGAJ: Because it's - I'd be scared to go over there because to go over there, probably, it's - stop me over there and send me back.
GREENE: Why did you come to the United States in the first place 17 years ago?
RRANXBURGAJ: I come like everybody come and - you know, free country for better life like everyone that's tried to be in here.
GREENE: Well, thank you for talking to us. If you could put the reverend back on, that'd be great. Thank you so much.
RRANXBURGAJ: You're welcome.
GREENE: Hi. So I guess I want to ask you, do you recognize that you're harboring a fugitive, someone who's been labeled a fugitive by the United States government?
ZUNDEL: Well, we're not really harboring a fugitive because we did a press conference, and we let Immigration know exactly where he is. So we're not hiding anybody in the building at all, and we're protecting him and trying to push Immigration to do the humane thing and give him a stay to be able to take care of his wife.
GREENE: We should say, I mean, the government has the right with a warrant to come into your church if they want to. I know that their general policy has been to not come into places of worship, but they could come at any point. What is your plan if that happens?
ZUNDEL: Our plan is to videotape it, livestream it as it's happening. I want the world to see if Immigration comes and tries to tear this family apart - exactly what's happening.
GREENE: As difficult as it is to grapple with this story and the idea of a husband being taken from his wife who's very sick, this is a man who was originally ordered to leave the country by a judge in 2006. A judge refused his appeal in 2009. ICE has been working with him within the legal framework, not detaining him, letting him go through the whole legal process. I mean, in terms of justice based on U.S. law, isn't the law on the government's side here?
ZUNDEL: Yeah, but that doesn't make it a just law. It makes it a law. He's followed everything Immigration has asked him to do, and then something happened in the last three months, and then he was threatened with deportation.
GREENE: Some would say that allowing him to stay might send a signal to people around the world that as long as you can get to the United States, even illegally, you're going to be able to stay and that that undermines the legal immigration process. How do you respond to that?
ZUNDEL: I say the legal immigration process is a broken system. And so yes, while we acknowledge that he didn't go through the right channels, he's been here. He's not a threat to anybody. He's been paying taxes. He's been working. He's been caring for his family. But he represents a lot of families in the United States that are being torn apart now because of an administration who is labeling these people as illegal. And we see them as human beings, and we're trying to get him to stay in the country. And he's not being allowed that chance anymore.
GREENE: Reverend Zundel, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.
ZUNDEL: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.