Gurguri released on bond

Fri, 03/23/2018 - 9:30am

“It was a complete shock to me.”

That was Meriton Gurguri’s reaction to being arrested on Block Island by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on Feb. 27. The ICE agents had taken a Coast Guard cutter to Block Island to arrest him while he was working at the Block Island Grocery store. 

“I knew who they were,” he told The Block Island Times. “I had that feeling. I didn’t expect them to come for me.”

Immigration Judge Mario Sturla released Gurguri on Tuesday, pending payment of a $2,500 surety bond. Gurguri, a 29 year old Kosovo native, who has lived and worked on Block Island since 2010, was arrested for overstaying his J-1 Visa. He has been detained at the Bristol County Detention Facility in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, but expected to be back on Block Island by week’s end.

Mary Jane Balser, who employs Gurguri as a manager at her grocery store, has been helping with his legal defense, and facilitated his bond payment. “Mary Jane has been an angel,” said Gurguri. “I will never be able to repay her for what she has done for me.”

“I’m so relieved right now,” he said, noting that although he was aware of his undocumented status, and immigration laws, it surprised him that he was arrested as a non-criminal with an engineering degree.

“The judge was very nice,” said Gurguri of his teleconference hearing with Judge Sturla. Gurguri attended the hearing from a room at the Bristol County Detention Facility. He said the facility where he was detained was occupied by 63 other immigration detainees.

Gurguri first came to Block Island for part of 2010, and returned in 2011 when his parents dissuaded him from returning to his war-torn homeland. He told The Times that his parents, who are still living in Kosovo, were happy to hear of his release.

As for the support he has received on Block Island, which included a Town Council resolution supporting his being bonded, and asking for leniency, Gurguri said, “I can never feel more proud and thankful to those people. They lifted my heart. I cannot even process what was happening” back on the Island.

What was happening was a community generating $13,000 in donations to cover his legal expenses, over 500 signatures on a petition, and over 40 letters of support. State Rep. Blake Filippi also sent a letter of support to Immigration Court Administrator Robert Halpin on his behalf.

Gurguri is scheduled for a hearing before the same judge on April 3, when his future will be decided. The judge can either deport him at that point, or allow him to seek a path to citizenship.

“I’m looking forward to coming back to Block Island,” said Gurguri. “Hopefully, I can become a U.S. citizen.”