Undocumented immigrant takes sanctuary in church to stop deportation, care for wife

Flora Rranxburgaj knows what will happen if her husband, Ded, who is a fugitive from immigration authorities, gets deported.

"My life is done," said Flora Rranxburgaj, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 11 years ago.

That's why the family has taken sanctuary in a Detroit church.

Ded Rranxburgaj, who emigrated from Albania 17 years ago to provide a "better life" for his family, has to bathe and feed his wife because of her disability.

"My wife is very sick and I want my family all together," said Ded Rranxburgaj. "I have to stay in the church, I have no choice."

Flora, Ded, and their two sons moved into the Central United Methodist Church Detroit a week ago to avoid authorities.

Historically, some churches have offered sanctuary to undocumented immigrants facing deportation.

Places of worship fall under Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) sensitive locations policy, which directs officials to avoid conducting enforcement without prior approval or only in extreme circumstances.

Among the many changes to immigration enforcement, the Trump administration announced in September that it was winding down the Obama-era DACA program, which gives relief from deportation and provided work authorization for the approximately 800,000 Dreamers living in the U.S.

The fate of the DACA program is being debated on Capitol Hill and was at the center of the three-day government shutdown over the weekend.

Ded immigrated to the U.S. in 2001 with his son, Lorenc. Flora soon followed. Two years later they had another son, who is now a sophomore in high school.

They settled in Southgate, Michigan, just outside of Detroit.

Ded and Flora Rranxburgaj both tried to get political asylum, but were denied. They appealed and were denied again.

According to ICE, Ded Rranxburgaj was ordered removed by an immigration judge in 2006. In 2009, the Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed his appeal of the immigration judge's decision, affirming his removal order.

At his October check-in with ICE, Ded was informed that he would have to leave the U.S. and return to Albania. He was given until Jan. 27 to deport.

"As ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan has made clear, ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States," said ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls in a statement.

Ded was allowed to remain free from custody to make preparations, but when he didn't check back in with ICE as instructed, he became a fugitive.

The Rranxburgaj's are the first family whose case was "desperate enough" for the church to offer sanctuary since a network of area churches was established in March, said Caitlin Homrich-Knieling, an immigrant family defense organizer with Michigan United.

Flora Rranxburgaj, meanwhile, has been granted a humanitarian waiver to stay and work in the U.S. because of her illness, Homrich-Knieling said.

ICE has declined to discuss Flora's case.

She can talk and is "full of life," but must be physically moved from place to place, said Homrich-Knieling.

But Flora has not been able to work for many years.

"I can't take care my young son and I can't take care of myself," Flora said.

On Wednesday, Ded's sons, his Cornerstone Grill employer, as well as clergy, elected officials and other supporters will be rallying outside the local immigration office to ask for a stay of removal for Ded.

His deportation order comes amid a three-year high in immigration-related arrests and ramped up rhetoric by the Trump administration against illegal immigration.

Ded said when he left Albania "everyone wanted to come and be in a free country."

"You want a job you can find a job. You want a farm you can go farm with your kids and family. You can do whatever you want," he said.
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