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Court hearing this week for immigrant living in sanctuary in Detroit church

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

An undocumented Albanian man who’s beenliving in sanctuaryin a Detroit church to avoid deportation has an important hearing this week.

Ded Rranxburgaj came to the U.S. with his family illegally in 2001, in hopes of claiming political asylum. Advocates say they’ve tried every legal way they could to stay in the U.S, but the Trump administration moved to deport Rranxburgaj in 2018.

“Every year since then, they have not broken any laws,” said Reverend Jill Hardt-Zundel, of Central United Methodist Church. “They have stayed together as a family, they’ve checked in with ICE every single time that they’ve been required to do so.”

Rranxburgaj, his wife Flora, and their youngest son have been living in the church since January 2018. Flora has multiple sclerosis, and Ded is her sole caretaker. Advocates say deporting him would leave Flora medically vulnerable, and that he should be allowed to stay in the country on humanitarian grounds.

Rranxburgaj’s lawyer will argue his case before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday. Their legal position is that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement didn’t properly consider his plea to stay in the country on humanitarian grounds before declaring him a fugitive. A federal district court judge in Detroit ruled that her court was not the proper venue to hear the case.

Hardt-Zundel said she hopes the Sixth Circuit will “have a heart for this family” and Rranxburgaj, who has not set foot outside the church in two-and-a-half years.

“At the very beginning of this, we said it would be a couple of weeks, a couple of months” living in the church, Hardt-Zundel said. “And then the conversation started, saying it’s going to take a change in administration for this truly to change.”

Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell has advocated for Rranxburgaj’s case. She praised the church as a lifeline for the family, but said his case is emblematic of larger problems with the country’s immigration system.

“They have given him a home, and they’ve protected Flora, and there are a lot of people that are in this same boat,” Dingell said.

“We’ve got to remember what our values are. And at some point, we need to stop being afraid and stand up for what it means to be who we are as Americans, and those fundamental values.”

Rranxburgaj’s case will be argued before a three-judge panel in a closed, online hearing. Rranxburgaj will not be able to participate, but supporters say they hope the judges will “see the futility of continuing to try to break up this family.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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