Hours before a woman whose family runs a popular restaurant in Cheshire, Connecticut was scheduled to be deported Monday back to Albania, a country she hasn't been to in 15 years, after a temporary stay of deportation was issued.
Denada Rondos escaped Albania at age 16, fearing for her life because of religion, ethnicity and gender. She said her parents sent her to the United States with a passport that was not hers and she's been told she committed fraud because of that.
The mother of three American-born children is married to a U.S. citizen. Rondos, who is Greek Orthodox, said she came to the U.S. to escape religious persecution in the Muslim-majority country and has applied for asylum.
Her attorney, Erin O'Neil-Baker, said Rondos arrived in the United States in 2002 following severe discrimination and harassment in Albania that was directed at her family for their political opinions.
Baker filed a new asylum claim based in part on increased discrimination and violence in southern Albania against the Greek minority ethnic group.
Denada met her husband, Viron, in New York and they moved to Connecticut,choosing to live Litchfield. They started several businesses, including Viron Rondos Osteria, an Italian restaurant that employs more than 50 people, which they have been looking to expand. Denada Rondos assists with the accounting and bookkeeping.
"He bought a business that had gone dark. The restaurant was closed. There was nothing going on up here in terms of restaurant business, and he turned this place around," said Cheshire Mayor and Town Council Chairman Robert Oris. "If his wife isn't here to support him, I'm sure that this business is going to be put into jeopardy."
Denada's attorney said the Immigration Court in New York had issued a removal order against her in 2007 and Denada had received earlier stays of removal until one was denied in September.
Denada was given an ankle monitor to keep an eye on her movements.
Viron and Denada's three children were all born in the U.S. Niko is 7 years old. Katerina is 5 years old. Alxandra is 1 year old.
The family had packed bags to go with Denada to Albania and they expected to leave around 3 p.m. to get on a flight, but the temporary stay was issued.
"I thank them for giving me the chance to stay and I'm thankful that I can go home and unpack," Denada said.
O'Neil-Baker said they wanted to reopen Denada's old removal order from 2007 and that they also filed an emergency stay of removal with the board, the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
She said they've filed a waiver to excuse her removal order so that she can get permanent residency based on her marriage to a U.S. citizen.
"In an exercise of discretion, ICE has allowed Mrs. Rondos to remain free from custody with periodic reporting requirements. The agency will continue to closely monitor her case to ensure her departure in compliance with her final order of removal," ICE said in a previous statement.
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., met with Rondos Friday afternoon and attended a vigil Sunday.
She said she wrote a letter to immigration authorities in support of Rondos, urging them to grant “every consideration possible to remain in the United States and continue her pathway to citizenship.”