Chicago, IL:Janina Wasilewski, who was deported in May 2007, received a warm welcome at O’Hare airport Monday afternoon from her husband Tony and dozens of other friends and supporters. Janina had left behind her husband, her house, her family business, and her friends after living in Chicago’s Polish community for 18 years. The family’s story was documented in the film Tony and Janina’s American Wedding by Chicago-area filmmaker Ruth Leitman, which premiered last fall.
Janina returns to Chicago after a four-year legal and advocacy struggle led by Tony, the Polish Initiative of Chicago, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), filmmaker Ruth Leitman, US Rep. Luis Gutierrez, and other allies. “We are all overjoyed that this day has finally arrived,” said Monika Starczuk, a leader of the Polish Initiative of Chicago and citizenship program coordinator for ICIRR. “We have all worked very hard to help Tony and Janina reunite and resume their lives together here in Chicago.”
Janina arrived in the US in 1989. She and Tony married in 1993, and together they lived the American Dream: They founded a successful cleaning service, bought a house in the Chicago suburbs, and raised their US-born son Brian. Yet Janina was forced to depart in 2007 when the last appeals in her asylum case ran out. Since then, Tony and his supporters waged a public campaign to bring Janina back: Tony, who became a US citizen shortly after Janina’s deportation, testified before the House Immigration Subcommittee, spoke at rallies, and worked with members of Congress and other elected officials. He and Janina also worked with local filmmaker Ruth Leitman to document their struggle.
The separation took a severe toll on the entire family: Without Janina’s management, the business nosedived. Tony lost the house to foreclosure, and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars supporting Janina, traveling to Poland to visit her and Brian (who went to Poland with his mother), and working with lawyers on the case. Tony’s health also suffered from the stress. Janina struggled financially in Poland, and Brian spent key years in his childhood without his father. Ultimately, the hardship of separation proved severe enough to meet the “extreme hardship” standard needed to waive the legal bars that kept Janina out of the United States despite being married to a US citizen.
"It should not come to this,” said US Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who had invited Tony to testify in Congress and who has been one of the family’s champions. “To me, a US citizen whose spouse and child are uprooted to another country is the very definition of 'extreme hardship.' It should be a matter of policy and practice that the spouses and parents of US citizens are kept together and not deported unless there is a serious criminal history that warrants harsh measures. Reuniting an American family ought to be the default for our immigration laws, not splitting one apart."
While celebrating the reunion of the Wasilewski family, ICIRR renewed its call on the Obama Administration to stop deportations that separate families and to offer relief to immigrants with US citizen family members, like Janina. “This administration has deported more than one million people since taking office,” said Fred Tsao, ICIRR policy director. “If this administration truly values families, it must find ways to stop families like the Wasilewskis from being ripped apart. It should not take a foreclosure, a collapsed family business, a heart attack, thousands of dollars of legal fees, and a motion picture to keep a family together.”
The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is a state wide coalition of 138 organizations dedicated to promoting the rights of immigrants and refugees to full and equal participation in the civic, cultural, social, and political life of our diverse society.