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After three years locked in a Detroit church to avoid deportation by federal immigration authorities, an immigrant from Albania who was labeled a fugitive by immigration and customs services is now free after his lawyer has reached an agreement with the Ministry of Justice.

In January 2018, Ded Rranxburgaj took refuge inside the Central United Methodist Church, a historic congregation near Comerica Park, after ICE sought to expel him. Born in Albania, he lived in the United States without permission after exceeding the visa period to care for his ailing wife, Flora Rranxburgaj, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.

Rranxburgaj was believed to be the first immigrant to take refuge in a Michigan church during the Trump administration, which toughened immigration law enforcement. At the time, Rranxburgaj’s case drew support from immigrant advocates, who rallied for him in Detroit as he filed a lawsuit to prevent his removal.

Now he is free to travel and live outside of the church, according to his lawyer George Mann. He is working to find an apartment in the Downriver area with a ground floor entrance that would be accessible to his wife, who uses a wheelchair.

“I am a free man after three years,” Rranxburgaj said Tuesday inside the church at a press conference, according to a video of the event provided by liberal advocacy group Michigan United. “I’m so happy, I can’t explain how happy I am. … thank goodness now I can get some fresh air outside with my wife and family.”

He commended the church and its pastor, Reverend Jill Hardt Zundel, for their strong support.

Mann said they had reached a deal with the heads of the Justice Department headed by Colin Kisor, deputy director of the Department of Justice.

An email sent to the Justice Department requesting comment was not returned. ICE’s public affairs office also did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Mann said the agreement with the Justice Department effectively ended their lawsuit.

On Tuesday, “Rranxburgaj visited the ICE office in Detroit and was placed on watch, in accordance with our agreement with the government,” Mann said in an email to the Free Press. “This is a huge success for Mr. Rranxburgaj. … He avoided having to stay in the shrine for many months as the case progressed.”

ICE officials have previously said they will not enter the church to arrest and remove him after he takes refuge.

Rranxburgaj traveled from Albania to Canada, then came to the United States 19 years ago as a visitor with his wife.

He exceeded the term of his visa and became undocumented, but was initially allowed to stay in the United States. He was a cook at a Coney Island restaurant on the Detroit subway and lived in Southgate.

Mann said he hoped the case could help other immigrants trying to stay in the United States.

fugitives by ICE to claim their rights in courts across the country, “Mann said.” The question of … fugitive status does not disappear. As people develop the next legal challenges, the strong arguments we have made will serve as advice and inspiration. “

U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, applauded Rranxburgaj’s liberation agreement, but said more needs to be done to help other immigrants.

“As we recognize the strength of the Rranxburgaj family, we must also recognize that our immigration system is still very weak,” Dingell said. “People come to the United States to seek peace, comfort and security. And yet they are faced with an immigration system that is not ready to help. Ded’s supervised release is an important step, but there is still work to be done. We have a moral responsibility to reform our immigration system … ”.

Zundel, the church’s pastor, said they plan to help other immigrants who may need shelter.

“Our job is not done as long as ICE continues to tear families apart,” Zundel said. “We already have people asking to enter our church to take refuge after this family leaves. We need immigration reform now.”

Contact Niraj Warikoo: [email protected]

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