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With father facing deportation, family seeks sanctuary in Detroit church

Jan 17, 2018

A Southgate family is now living above Detroit’s Central United Methodist Church.

They’ve sought sanctuary there in a last-ditch effort to save the father from a deportation order.

Ded Rranxburgaj is from Albania. He’s been living in the U.S. illegally since 2001, but allowed to stay because he’s the main caretaker for his wife, Flora, who is seriously ill with multiple sclerosis.

Flora and Ded Rranxburgaj in their living quarters at Central United Methodist Church.
Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

But late last year, for unknown reasons, the government revoked that and scheduled Rranxburgaj for deportation. He exhausted all of his legal options, and was scheduled to be sent back to Albania on Jan. 25th.

Rranxburgaj says he’d run out of options, and was forced to turn to the church for sanctuary.

“For right now, I’m in my home,” said Rranxburgaj, who cannot leave the church while he’s in sanctuary there. “I’m like, in God’s hands right now.”

The case represents a new test for the modern sanctuary movement. Some churches and other houses of worship have pledged to offer undocumented people protection from deportation, but this is one of the first real-life tests of the concept.

Central United Methodist pastor Jill Zundel says granting the family, which also includes 15- and 24-year-old sons, sanctuary was a “no-brainer.”

“We’re breaking the law to follow God’s higher law,” she said.

Zundel says the family can stay as long as it takes to resolve Ded’s case. “There’s no time limit as far as the church is concerned,” she said.

And they may be there awhile, because Ded has officially exhausted all of his legal options in the immigration system.  Zundel says their only hope is to advocate for the family, and hope that someone will change their mind.

“I think the more that we get this out in the public, the more we can change people’s minds,” said Zundel of why the family chose to go public with their move to sanctuary. “That’s all we’ve got to go on.”

In the meantime, Ded can’t work as he says he has every day for the past 17 years. Volunteers must take Flora to her doctor’s appointments, and their younger son to school.

But Ded says it’s worth it. If it was just him, he says he’d follow the deportation order and return to Albania. But someone needs to take care of Flora, and he believes his sons can’t do it without giving up much of their lives.

“I’m pretty sure, [if] they send me back, I never see my family again,” he said.