HARTFORD — Denada Rondos and her three children spent a somber weekend packing to leave their Litchfield home and Cheshire restaurant for Rondos’ native Albania.
“It was very quiet,” Rondos said.
Rondos and the children prepared to leave behind Viron Rondos, her husband of nine years and the children’s father, to board a 10 p.m. flight Monday after she lost a stay of deportation in September. A Sunday vigil that drew more than 100 Cheshire residents reflected the local support for Denada and Viron Rondos who have contributed to the community through their popular restaurant Viron Rondo Osteria in the town’s north end. Viron Rondos, a U.S. citizen, was staying behind to run the restaurant. The three children are also U.S. citizens, but at ages 1, 5 and 7 years old their parents decided they would leave with their mother.
As they were packing Monday morning, the Department of Homeland Security issued a forbearance that stated ICE won’t act to deport Rondos while her appeal is being reviewed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The last minute reprieve, although temporary, brought smiles to the family’s faces and to the Congressional lawmakers that helped the family.
“I’m very grateful,” Denada Rondos told a group of reporters assembled Monday at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. “This is the best day of my life.”
Denada Rondos has been fighting to remain in the United States for several months after her denial, but her journey to win asylum began soon after she arrived in the country in 2002. At age 16, her Albanian parents provided her with a visa that belonged to someone else to help her escape the country’s violence and religious persecution of Orthodox Christians. She left Albania at age 17.
When she arrived, she learned the fraudulent visa made her ineligible for asylum.
“The statements she made then can be used against her now,” said her attorney Erin O’Neil-Baker. But there are laws protecting minors. “She has a valid claim for asylum,” O’Neil-Baker said.
In addition to her motion to reopen her deportation order, O’Neil-Baker is also seeking a waiver for inadmissability of the fraud claiming Rondos’ parents bolstered their daughter’s case for asylum when they issued the fraudulent visa to her. Rondos is also seeking a waiver because she is married to a U.S. citizen. The appeal could take up to a year to be heard, but O’Neil-Baker has asked that it be expedited.
“This gives her a day in court,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut. "This temporary relief is very gratifying, But, it's only one step and we're going to continue the fight for this family so they can remain together in this country where they have a business and they've contributed to their community."
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th, joined Blumenthal in asking ICE to reconsider Rondos’ asylum claim.
“The Rondos family has given back to the community,” Esty said. “Quietly, they have been helping. We need a policy that makes sense. It shouldn’t be one by one that we save people.”
As his children scampered around in the legislative hearing room, Viron Rondos thanked the lawmakers, O’Neil-Baker, and the media.
“This is not political, this is about my wife’s safety,” he said. “I am happy right now.”
Both Blumenthal and Esty criticized the recent escalation in non-criminal deportations since the Trump administration took control of the Department of Homeland Security. O’Neil-Baker said that without a policy change, there will be more cases going forward. Many of them are not as strong as Rondos’.
“This is not what a great country does,” Esty said. It would be as if a police force...decided to arrest everyone who had parking tickets. She has been trying for eight years. We need a rational policy and that’s not what we have now.”