Opinion: Protect our neighbors from ICE
Ded and Flora Rranxburgaj live in a cramped apartment in Detroit’s Central United Methodist Church. They’re not there by choice—but because the Church is providing Ded sanctuary from detention and deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Flora, who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS), requires round the clock care. And Ded, a committed husband, is unwilling to leave his ill wife’s side.
That means he hasn’t left the church for nearly 11 months.
This couple has become the local face of a complex, and increasingly polarized debate on immigration, where the complexity of individual’s nuanced stories is often bulldozed by the bluster of politicians who traffic in fear of the unknown.
But right now, these two people, with real, complex stories, need our help.
17 years ago, Ded and Flora immigrated from post-civil war Albania. First they applied for asylum and were denied. During the appeal process, Flora was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. They were then granted a humanitarian stay to live and work in the United States. Ded worked a series of odd jobs to make an honest living, and Flora worked until she was too weak to do so. Together they are raising their two boys. Eric, 16, is an American citizen, and Lorenc, 24 is a DACA recipient. They raised them the right way—paying cash for tuition so that their eldest could attend the University of Michigan – Dearborn. They paid their taxes. They never broke the law.
When Flora was diagnosed with MS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that interferes with every day activities like going to the bathroom and showering 13 years ago, the family didn’t have much. So Ded took on the burden of providing her care at home, which often meant feeding Flora, helping her through multiple trips to the bathroom, and bathing her.
After Donald Trump’s election, Ded’s humanitarian stay was revoked, and he was ordered to leave the country. But Flora cannot travel more than 30 minutes. And rather than leave his ailing wife, Ded did not comply with self-deportation orders.
He needed sanctuary. Michigan United, a local advocacy organization, approached the Church to provide Ded and Flora sanctuary, which they have done for the last 11 months. And while ICE has indicated that they will respect the church’s sanctuary provisions, they are not law-bound to do so. That leaves Ded and Flora liable to separation and Ded to deportation at any time.
But because he has not complied with deportation orders, ICE has labeled Ded a “fugitive”, which has frozen any attempt to move his paperwork for legal residency forward.
Ded and Flora are stuck in limbo. But on Tuesday, November 13th, Ded and Flora have a court date to review the fugitive label—possibly clearing the way for him and his family to stay together, in the US.
That’s where we come in. So many of us have watched in horror as our President and our Government have committed some of the worst human rights violations in this 21st century in our name—from the child separations at the southern border to the Muslim ban, Trump and his acolytes have used their power to try to stoke nativism, fear, and hatred between Americans. They point to an imaginary threat of ‘invasion’ from abroad –people who want nothing more than the American dream for which so many of our foreparents came.
Ded and Flora and their two boys represent everything that is America – a commitment to family, a belief in hard work and determination, and the will to fight for the people you love. They are the America we – a Muslim-American Doctor and a Christian Pastor—believe in. They are the America you believe in. And it’s time we support them.
We’ve protested, we’ve written letters to our senators and representatives, and we’ve voted. But now it’s time to turn that activism into action to protect our own neighbors.
We are meeting Nov. 13 at 12:45 p.m. at Central United Methodist Church in Detroit to march to the courthouse and stand in support of our neighbors, Ded and Flora. We hope you’ll join us.
Jill Hardt Zundel is the senior pastor at Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit where the Rranxburgaj family has found sanctuary.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed is a physician, public health advocate, and progressive activist, and President of Southpaw Michigan, a progressive political action committee.