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Man gets immigration reprieve, leaves church sanctuary after more than three years

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

A man who’s lived in sanctuary at a Detroit church is now free to leave, ending an immigration saga that’s lasted over three years.

Ded Rranxburgaj came to the U.S. illegally from Albania in 2001. He’s the primary caretaker for his wife, Flora, who has multiple sclerosis, and had fought to stay in the country on humanitarian grounds.

The Trump Administration ordered Rranxburgaj deported in 2018. That’s when he sought sanctuaryat Central United Methodist Church, where he’s lived ever since.

But the Biden administration has offered a reprieve. Rranxburgaj will be allowed to stay in the country under an order of supervision, meaning his deportation order still stands but won’t be enforced for now.

Rranxburgaj thanked the church community and his supporters for getting him through the ordeal. “I'm so happy for myself and you people, what you do for us,” he said. “But thank God now I can get fresh air, outside with my wife and my family.”

Reverend Jill Zundel, pastor at Central United Methodist, called it a happy day for both the Rranxburgajs and those seeking immigration justice. But she said the years Rranxburgaj spent confined to the church—unable to attend his sons’ graduations, one son’s wedding, or accompany Flora on her many trips to the hospital—weren’t easy.

“We have a saying: sanctuary is hard,” Zundel said. “Sanctuary takes a physical toll on someone. And it takes a mental toll as well.”

“Sanctuary is hard, but injustice is worse.

George Mann, one of Rranxburgaj’s attorneys, said as part of an agreement with the Department of Justice, Rranxburgaj will withdraw his lawsuit challenging his designation as a fugitive. He praised the family for standing by their principles.

“They really represent something about this country, about this country of immigrants and their descendants,” Mann said. “The reason that they were not capable of being abandoned by the community around them is because of the example they set-a very simple, basic example--about devotion and honoring your duty, your family, and standing up for each other.”

Aleksandra Dragovic, Mann’s law partner who also represented Rranxburgajs, said the order of supervision will require occasional check-ins with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She said the agency under Biden has so far been accommodating, recognizing that “they need to be treated with some sympathy and some discretion with respect to their current situation.”

“Ded and Flora will be able to apply for employment authorizations,” Dragovic said. “They'll be able to get their driver's licenses if they want them, and they'll be able to remain in this country indefinitely.

Rranxburgaj said his first priority is to get a driver’s license so that he find an apartment, and get back to work as a cook to support his family.

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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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