Pilgrimage aims to keep Metro Detroit father in U.S.

Mark Hicks

The band of activists and supporters walking from Metro Detroit to Lansing this week have a message for authorities seeking to deport immigrants: “Keep families together.”


Ded Rranxburgaj watches from the balcony of the church, where he has taken sanctuary, as the march to Lansing begins Monday.

That’s the name of the 90-mile pilgrimage that the grassroots group Michigan United and supporters are embarking on to keep an Albanian father in the the United States.

Facing expulsion in January, Ded Rranxburgaj sought sanctuary at Central United Methodist Church in Detroit rather than be separated from his wife, Flora, who uses a wheelchair and needs constant help for multiple sclerosis.

The church is among the sites declared sanctuaries for immigrants scheduled for removal as the Trump administration targets those living in the United States illegally.

The crackdown has sparked outrcy across Metro Detroit, threatened to separate families and sent some longtime undocumented residents back to their homelands.

Hoping to secure a stay for Rranxburgaj from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, congregation members, immigrant families and others are marching. They expect to reach the state Capitol by Tuesday.


Activists and supporters, including the grassroots group Michigan United, launch their 90-mile pilgrimage to Lansing to urge immigration authorities to keep Ded Rranxburgaj, an Albanian father, in the the United States.

“This pilgrimage is about educating people about the broken immigration system and specifically shining the light on the Rranxburgaj family and their plight,” said the Rev. Jill Hardt Zundel, Central United’s pastor, in a statement. “People have no idea how immoral the system is that would separate a caregiver from his wife who has MS for 11 years. We will end at Lansing, where we will meet with legislators to change the systems that oppress!”

The trek kicked off Monday with a stop at the hospital where Flora Rranxburgaj underwent treatment, Michigan United reported.

“It is so terrible that my wife is sick in the hospital, and I cannot be there with her. Every time she had to go to emergency over the past 11 years I always went with her,” said Ded Rranxburgaj in a statement. He has been in the U.S. for 17 years and was allowed to stay as her caretaker.

“But now, I cannot leave this church, and that is very hard.”

On Tuesday, the throng convened at a religious temple in Farmington Hills, where they met the children of Cile Precetaj, an Albanian woman who had been in custody awaiting deportation. State Rep. Christine Grieg, who represents the city, was there.

“Our community can lead the way to change,” the lawmaker said. “By showing the solidarity that we have here tonight, by taking it to the streets, by taking it to the polls, we can change the direction of the state and of the country.”

The pilgrimage has scheduled stops in Brighton, Howell, Fowlerville and East Lansing, Michigan United said.

The walk comes as President Donald Trump hammered California on Wednesday for its so-called sanctuary immigration policies, the Associated Press reported. He met with California mayors, sheriffs and other local leaders who oppose the state’s refusal to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

“California’s law provides safe harbor to some of the most vicious and violent offenders on earth,” he said.

The event also came as top House Republicans worked to head off an attempt by party moderates to force roll calls on four immigration bills, the AP said. Republican leaders privately warned GOP lawmakers Wednesday that such a drive could damage the party’s prospects in the fall’s congressional elections by dispiriting conservative voters, according to people at the closed-door meeting.