Immigration Debate Hits Home

May 29, 2007

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An immigration bill before the U.S. Senate would provide paths to citizenship for many of the estimated 12 million U.S. residents who don't have proper papers to be living here.

As Congress debates the legislation, immigrant advocates are urging a suspension of deportations. But some critics say the government isn't doing enough to enforce residency laws.

That debate is playing out these days for a family in west suburban Schiller Park.

Chicago Public Radio's Chip Mitchell has the story.
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Now that the weather is warm, Brian Wasilewski has his scooter out.

BRIAN WASILEWSKI: “It has three wheelers.”

He's about to finish kindergarten and celebrate his sixth birthday.

And his mom is getting ready to take him to Poland next week.

His parents haven't told Brian yet that the trip is not a vacation.

His mother, Janina Wasilewski, is being deported.

The family has reluctantly decided it's best for Brian to go with her.

JANINA WASILEWSKI: “He is American because he was born here. He knows we are Polish, my husband and me. But he lives here. This is his country.”

Janina Wasilewski has lived in the Chicago area since 1989.

She met Brian's father, Tony Wasilewski, shortly after arriving.

TONY WASILEWSKI: “We want to live in the United States. We got a home, work, friends -- for 18 years”

A cleaning service he founded now employs a dozen workers.

He's waiting to hear back on his citizenship application.

TONY WASILEWSKI: “And we'd like to raise our son here in America too. His dream, my son's dream, is to be an American firefighter or, if not a firefighter, a soldier, an American soldier, or police officer.”

But Carl Rusnok of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says the laws are clear.

CARL RUSNOK: “Ms. Wasilewski entered the United States on a temporary six-month visitor's visa.”

He says she overstayed that visa.

And that's not all.

CARL RUSNOK: “She has disregarded immigration court and Board of Immigration Appeals orders for more than 10 years. Even though she had committed to the court to voluntarily depart from the United States, she later testified that she had no intention of fulfilling her agreement. Her case has been through several layers of administrative review. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit also denied a stay of deportation in this case. She has had extraordinary access to legal due process. ICE has exercised discretion by not detaining Ms. Wasilewski, and by extending her removal date to June 8, 2007.”

Once deported, Wasilewski won't be allowed to return to the United States for 10 years.

The family's attorney is Royal Berg.

ROYAL BERG: “Even though Janina is statutorily eligible for permanent residence through her husband, they are arguing that she should not be given it because she overstayed voluntary departure in 1995.”

Berg says Wasilewski didn't have due process because she didn't know what she was signing back then.

ROYAL BERG: “There was no Polish interpreter present. She spoke only Polish with a smattering of English at that time. The immigration judge never addressed her directly, did not give her the advisals [sic] that were provided in the statute or the regulations.”

Berg says the family has just two chances left.

He says he's petitioning the appellate court again this week...

ROYAL BERG: “And the second is our plea to Senator Durbin's office for a private bill, or special private legislation. That would also stay the deportation.”

But a spokeswoman for the Illinois Senator says Durbin will not introduce a bill for Wasilewski because there's no way to pass legislation for every touching case.

She says Durbin is focusing instead on reforming the nation's immigration laws.

One provision of the bill before the Senate would allow most undocumented immigrants to eventually legalize their status.

The Wasilewski case, meanwhile, is moving forward.

Brian will get to attend his kindergarten graduation next Tuesday.

Then he and his mother are scheduled to get on the plane to Warsaw.

I'm Chip Mitchell, Chicago Public Radio.