NEW YORK – The toll that deportation takes on a family was recounted in an article in ThinkProgress on January 21. Greek-American Frances Joseph met her future husband, Llukan Buta, in 2014 in Astoria. “I knew he had an order of supervision. I didn’t know that he also had [an order of] deportation on his back, I was pissed. I was upset. I kind of resent him for a lot of things he didn’t inform me on,” Joseph told ThinkProgress.
Her mother, Katherine Hadjimichael, accompanied her daughter to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) field office in Lower Manhattan in December for information on Buta’s case. The tearful Hadjimichael told a clerk behind glass, “This is my daughter, she has two kids who are now without their father.”
The story begins over twenty years ago. Buta was 11 years old when he arrived in the United States with his parents and sister in 1998 from Albania. The family applied for asylum as soon as possible but in 2000 the application was denied. An order of deportation was issued for the family which was allowed to remain in the U.S. pending appeal. The family struggled to make ends meet and Buta dropped out of school to go to work. His parents divorced leaving Buta’s mother to pay the bills and raise her two children. Buta spoke with ThinkProgess by phone from Albania, “My mom was working two jobs to support the both of us. My mom stayed to raise us [so we could have] a better life.”
In 2002, the family’s appeal was denied and further attempts to have the case reopened were also unsuccessful. In 2012, Buta received supervised release with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which offered some measure of lawful presence. By that time, Buta had settled in Queens, getting his GED at LaGuardia Community College, and working at his mother’s Greek bakery. Following their meeting in 2014, the relationship between Buta and Joseph grew serious, the birth of their daughter Valentina was followed by a wedding at City Hall. With his supervised release, Buta got a work permit, paid taxes, and continued to work at the bakery. The young family lived in the basement apartment of a house owned by Joseph’s mother, Hadjimichael, who lived upstairs. Buta contributed by paying rent which went toward the monthly mortgage payments, ThinkProgress reported.
Buta made his regularly scheduled check-in appointments with ICE, but in July 2017, the check-in was decidedly different. Joseph, pregnant at the time with their second child, and daughter Valentina, then almost two years old, were separated from Buta. She told ThinkProgress, “We got there and out of nowhere they separate the spouse, they never did that before. They always took us into the room together.”
Buta insisted that he bring Valentina with him and the agents allowed it, but Joseph was sent to a different floor to wait.
“Valentina was with Llukan because she wanted to be with her father,” Joseph told ThinkProgress. “They said to him, ‘What did you bring your daughter for? Do you think we’re going to feel sorry for you?’”
“The next time Joseph saw her husband he was behind bars in ICE detention, awaiting deportation to Albania, a country his family fled when he was a child — and one he hadn’t seen for more than half his life,” ThinkProgress reported.
The toll the deportation has taken on the family is serious. Buta missed the birth of his second daughter, Isabella, and is unable to provide for his family, ThinkProgress reported.
“I was crying [and had] depression,” Buta told ThinkProgress. “You think about committing suicide.”
His wife also suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS) and though her new treatment is helping to alleviate her symptoms, stress makes the exhaustion and weakness worse, making it difficult to care for her young daughters, ThinkProgress reported.
“Just fatigue, everyday fatigue,” Joseph told ThinkProgress of her symptoms, adding that “I haven’t had any inflammations. I think that’s also because [this new] treatment keeps [the MS] asleep. As far as tiredness, fatigue? Every day. I could sleep at any moment. I could just knock out.”
With her husband deported, Joseph turned to public assistance to help make ends meet, ThinkProgress reported, noting that “the irony of the situation is not lost on her, as she administered public benefits for New York City before going on medical leave to care for her newborn children.”
Zachary Slapsys is the couple’s legal consultant and finds the deportation especially hypocritical considering the Trump administration’s position on the use of government assistance by immigrants.
“They were nowhere near public assistance when [Buta] was here,” Slapsys told ThinkProgress. “He was working at a family-owned business lawfully, paying taxes. Because of his financial and practical support to the family, she was able to work with her medical condition. She could balance that because they were a family and they functioned together. If you leave him in Albania, then you’re adding another [U.S. citizen to public assistance].”
Adding to the irony, Buta had just applied for a marriage-based green card, filing the I-130 form and all the paperwork on July, 11, 2017 and just two weeks later, on July 25, at his routine check-in he was detained and then deported.
“Immigration normally, before this administration, would at least keep a deportation on hold until [the I-130] was resolved,” Slapsys told ThinkProgress. “Knowing that he had that pending, they deported him anyway. It’s almost like there’s no respect for their own process.”
“The policies of this administration are very clear and straightforward. They are not hiding what they’re doing. They’re saying, ‘We want to deport everyone,’ people with no crimes, with U.S.-citizen family, with ties to this country, basically people we want here, they weren’t priorities. Now they are because everyone’s a priority,” Slapsys said, ThinkProgress reported.
ICE did not respond to requests for comment nor did USCIS concerning the waiting time for the I-130 application to be processed. ThinkProgress reported that “the average processing time for I-130 forms was a little over seven months in 2017, when Buta’s application was filed. For the specific processing center where Buta’s I-130 was sent for adjudication, the majority of cases are resolved within eight months. As of January 2019, Buta and his family have been waiting 18 months for USCIS to approve their application.”
The toll on the family continues since Buta’s deportation entails an automatic ten-year penalty before he can be readmitted to the U.S. “To be eligible to reunite with his family, Buta must first apply to waive the 10-year penalty on the grounds that his absence has caused his family undue hardship,” ThinkProgress reported, adding that “the most Slapsys and Joseph can do in the meantime is request meeting after meeting with immigration agents in New York appealing to their humanity in order to hurry along approval of the I-130.”
Joseph’s plea was written on a piece of paper at a recent meeting, “Please expedite interview. Beneficiary/husband has been deported to Albania and I-130 adjudication is necessary to file the hardship waiver. U.S. [citizen] wife has two small children and suffers from MS. Thank you,” ThinkProgress reported.
At press time, the interview has not yet been expedited and Buta remains in Albania.