Gurguri returns to work

A year after being detained by ICE agents
Thu, 01/17/2019 - 6:45pm

With a big smile on his face, Meriton Gurguri, the Kosovo native detained by Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents about a year ago, told The Times he was happy to be back at work. Gurguri had been suspended from work while he awaits a decision on his immigration status, which could mean either deportation or being permitted to remain in the United States to seek a path to citizenship.

“My Employment Authorization Card came on Friday,” he said. “So I am back to work.” Gurguri said his EAC, or work permit, was issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services  on Jan. 4, 2019. The permit expires on Jan. 3, 2021.

Gurguri said he began work at the grocery store on Saturday, Jan. 11. “It was awesome,” he said of receiving the EAC card. “I knew what it was. It was exciting receiving it. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”

Gurguri’s expression as he spoke about being back to work was in stark contrast to his sober demeanor this past year as he struggled with an uncertain future after being detained by ICE agents on Feb. 27, 2018 for overstaying his J-1 visa. His detainment was part of the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown policy. On March 20, appearing in court with a Town Council resolution in his file, Gurguri was granted his release from the Bristol County Detention Facility in Dartmouth, Mass., by Immigration Judge Mario Sturla on a $2,500 surety bond.

Now, some 10 months after his release, and after ongoing court appearances, Gurguri is once again enjoying life on Block Island and back at his old job, working as a manager of the grocery store.

During the past year, Gurguri said it was quite challenging. He was unable to collect unemployment, or earn any income. He was also concerned that the government shutdown would impact receipt of his EAC card. 

“This is a very good thing for me,” he said of receiving his card. “It’s my first official American document.” 

Gurguri said he has a hearing scheduled in a Boston immigration courtroom on May 1, as he awaits a determination on his status, or path to citizenship. If the judge issues a decision and his case is solved, he can either be deported, or invited to stay in the United States. Gurguri said there is a backlog in the courts with regard to immigration cases, which makes for a lengthy process.

If the court rules that Gurguri can remain in the United States, his Social Security number would become active again, and he would then be able to apply for a green card. If his case is not solved within the next two years, his EAC card is automatically renewed for another two years. 

“There are a lot of ifs in seeking citizenship, and this process,” said Gurguri. “But getting my green card is down the road. It could take eight years or more.”

In a message he sent to The Times, Gurguri said, “I want to thank everyone for walking this road with me, especially Mary Jane Balser, for being so patient, caring and understanding. Without her I don’t think any of this would have been possible.” Balser is the co-owner of the grocery store and helped pay for some of Gurguri’s legal fees.

“Mentally and financially it has been a struggle,” said Gurguri. “On the other hand, it was a great joy because I had time to give back to my Block Island family and community.

Volunteering with Dave Sniffen and Cindy Lemon at the Recreation Department has made the road a lot easier. It was my pleasure to give back.”