CHESHIRE — The family and attorney of Denada Rondos, an Albanian immigrant facing deportation and wife of restaurateur Viron Rondos, said she and her children could face persecution in her home country due the family’s Greek Orthodox faith.
The front-end manager and bookkeeper for Viron Rondo Osteria on Highland Avenue must leave the country no later than Monday according to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Her attorney, Erin O’Neil-Baker, filed an asylum claim based on ethnic tensions in Albania as well as a special waiver to allow Denada Rondos to stay in the country since she’s married to a U.S. citizen.
The attorney hoped ICE would allow Denada Rondos, a mother of three, to stay in the country while those appeals are resolved.
“Ultimately, she’ll be able to get her permanent residency,” O’Neil-Baker said, adding that the processing time would likely be about a year.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Khaalid Walls said Friday that Rondos was ordered removed by an immigration judge in 2009. The decision was upheld following an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals.
"In an exercise of discretion, ICE has allowed Mrs. Rondos to remain free from custody with periodic reporting requirements,” Walls said in a statement. “The agency will continue to closely monitor her case to ensure her departure in compliance with her final order of removal.”
Addressing the media on Friday, Denada Rondos wore a GPS monitoring device on her ankle. She’s bought a ticket for herself and her three children for Monday to Albania.
Denada Rondos used a passport with another person’s information to enter the country at age 17 in 2002. Although she immediately sought asylum, the use of a fraudulent passport hasn’t helped her case.
“To be eligible (for permanent residency) you can’t have committed fraud,” O’Neil-Baker said.
U.S. Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, a Democrat, said since then Denada Rondos hasn’t gotten “so much as a parking ticket,” has helped build a successful local business and been a devoted wife and mother. Deporting her would be “wrong and cruel,” Esty said.
Viron Rondo said the family has been trying for years to get permanent residency.
“We’re being treated like criminals. We’re not criminals,” he said.
For the special waiver claim, O’Neil-Baker will have to show that Viron Rondos will suffer extreme hardship if his wife is deported. Since he runs the restaurant, Denada Rondos will have to take their three children with her to Albania.
“I hope we don’t have to see what Viron Rondos looks like without his wife. It’s not going to be pretty. They’re a definite team. She’s been by his side through the growth of his restaurant,” O’Neil-Baker said.
She also cited a 2010 murder of an Albanian man for speaking Greek and the recent demolition of buildings with Greek architecture as evidence of that country’s attempts to eradicated Greek influence. A majority of Albania’s residents are Muslim, according to a 2011 census.
“It’s not a friendly place for her to return to,” O’Neil-Baker said.
In 2007, she got the deportation order. Initial appeals for asylum were based on political opinions held by her family but these were ultimately rejected.
“We kept appealing that deportation,” Viron Rondos said. “We have been trying to resolve this in any legal way possible.”
Viron Rondos was born in Southern Albania but grew up in Greece. He came to the United States in 1999 and became a citizen.
“We tried the same thing with her,” he said of his wife.
Until recently, ICE has regularly given her permission to remain in the country.
“They knew her address, they knew about her life,” O’Neil-Baker said. “The difference is that this time, when the stay of removal was filed, it was denied.”
President Donald Trump issued executive orders in January that changed deportation priorities for ICE, putting people like Denada Rondos in line for removal, according to O’Neil-Baker.
In mid-September the stay was denied.
His wife is “devastated” at the thought of leaving. Their children, ages 7, 5 and 2, only speak English and have never left the country. Viron Rondos said he can’t leave his business but is also worried about the safety of his family in Albania.
“If she goes there now, it’s very unsafe for her and the children,” he said. “It’s not fair, it’s not fair to send them to a country like Albania.”