DETROIT (AP) — A Detroit church is providing sanctuary for a man in the country illegally who was ordered deported to Albania even though he says that he is the sole caretaker of his wheelchair-bound wife.
Central United Methodist Church officials announced at a news conference Tuesday that the church is offering sanctuary to Ded Rranxburgaj, 48, of Southgate, who is scheduled to be deported Jan. 25. The Rranxburgaj family will stay at an apartment in the church indefinitely, church leaders and Michigan United officials said.
Immigration officials told Ded Rranxburgaj in October that he was going to be deported. The administration of President Donald Trump has cracked down on illegal immigration since he took office in January.
"This person is not a terrorist. He's not a threat to your country. He's trying to make a better life," said the Rev. Jill Hardt Zundel, senior pastor of Central United Methodist. "I follow a man named Jesus who flipped tables over, who tried to stop oppression. And that's what we're doing here."
This is the first time a metro Detroit church has announced it'll be providing sanctuary to an immigrant facing deportation under Trump, according to advocates. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy advises against targeting houses of worship and schools for enforcement actions. The church declared itself a sanctuary in 2017 and gave an African family seeking to remain in the country sanctuary last year before Trump was elected, church officials said.
Rranxburgaj came to the U.S. with his wife 17 years ago. Rranxburgaj said he was granted temporary humanitarian status after his wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than a decade ago. He said he has no criminal record and has been working with immigration officials to gain legal status.
ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls says Rranxburgaj currently is considered a fugitive after not reporting to ICE as instructed in October.
Walls says Rranxburgaj was ordered removed by an immigration judge in 2006, and in 2009, the Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed his appeal of that decision, affirming the removal order. He says ICE allowed Rranxburgaj to remain free from custody while making preparations for his departure, "which he had satisfactorily done."
"ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement," Walls said in an email. "All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States."
Flora Rranxburgaj, 44, who is married to Ded Rranxburgaj, isn't facing deportation because of her condition confined to a wheelchair, said Caitlin Homrich-Knieling, immigrant family defense organizer at Michigan United, a group that advocates for immigrant rights and other issues. The couple's oldest son has qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, while their youngest son is a U.S. citizen.
"To not see my wife very sick and to leave my sons and not ever see them again, that's very, very hard for me and for my family," Ded Rranxburgaj said. He said he is his wife's sole caregiver: cooking meals, helping her shower and change clothes.