Albanian man caring for sick wife getting sanctuary from church, labeled a fugitive

Image 1 of 9

The rooftop garden at Central United Methodist Church is where Ded Rranxburgaj is growing vegetables for those in need.

"I give it to the homeless people, the green beans, too," he said. "It's very nice, I give it a lot downstairs because it is too much for us."

Ded spent 17 years working at restaurants here after fleeing Albania for the United States with his family in 2001. Now he has a new grill - but fewer people to cook for. Though, it is how Ded still fills his time and finds peace of mind. He and his wife, Flora, and their two sons have been living at the church for the last six months with no end in sight.

He's caged in, so to speak, and tells us if he leaves he'll face being arrested. 

Rev. Jill Hardt Zundel announced back in January the church, which is 150 years old, will also serve as sanctuary for the family. 

The family has been going through the immigration process since fleeing war in 2001. In 2009, Flora was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She's in a wheelchair and is completely dependent on her husband for care. But in December, instead of granting Ded a humanitarian stay, he was ordered deported. Instead, Ded sought sanctuary at the church to continue to care for his sick wife.

Since then, supporters have rallied outside immigration headquarters and tried to deliver letters of support for the family. They even walked to Lansing to raise awareness.

"I'm still extremely scared about it," said Eric Rranxburgaj. "There's still could be a chance, after all this, that my dad could get deported."

But now, six months later they are still here, with Ded unable to leave their apartment inside the church.

"To send me back overseas, I probably would never see her again in my life," he said. "Or her, me. Or my sons either. It's very hard."

Ded tries to comfort his wife of 27 years. Flora, who is seriously ill and terribly sad, cries a lot.

"Everyday (I am) more sad, more nervous," she said.

And Ded is feeling the weight of this confinement and uncertainty as well.

"I just repeat every day, the same thing," he said. "It's hard. It's very, very hard. Thank God I've got very nice people in here, especially the pastor. (She) takes care of us for everything."

"We're in it for the long haul," said Rev. Zundel. "But we do it day by day because we didn't really anticipate them being here this long."

Rev. Zundel says the federal government has now labeled Ded a fugitive, and refuse to consider his case. His attorneys have filed a lawsuit and continue to wait and hope for a resolution that will keep this family together.

"To call him a fugitive, he's not a fugitive. We're not harboring a fugitive; they know exactly where he is," Rev. Zundel said. "It's hard to be in here; he's under house arrest. But he is doing it for his family to keep them together. If we're talking about that we believe in family values, that's what this family really stands for. They deserve a chance, just like the rest of us."

ICE considers the church a sensitive location so they will not go in there to bring Ded out and deport him. The church will continue to accept donations to help fund this family.