Thursday, January 28, 2010

Deportation order for cook could close Mama Mia (Baraboo News Republic)

Deportation order for cook could close Mama Mia
Mama Mia cook Musa "Mikey" Imeri, left, and co-manager and wife, Stacy, hold daughters Amelia, 3, and Anastacia, 5, in the restaurant's kitchen.
By Christie Taylor, News Republic
Thursday, January 28, 2010

A married Baraboo couple is bracing for as many as 10 years apart and the closing of the downtown Baraboo restaurant they run together after they learned Tuesday that Musa “Mikey” Imeri will be deported to his native country.

Imeri, 41, received notice Tuesday that he will be sent back to Macedonia on a flight that leaves Chicago this morning — after more than seven years of living in the United States.

Mikey spent five of those years cooking in Baraboo restaurants, including Mama Mia, which he has run with his wife Stacy, 34, for the past two years. Now, he said, the restaurant will have to close.

“We’ve got a really good customer foundation,” Stacy said, adding that much of the business relied on Mikey’s cooking.

During a two-week period in Setember when he wasn’t there, she said, “our business went to crap.”

“People just walked right out the door when they found out he wasn’t there,” she said. “You can’t replace him.”

But with rent on the building paid through February 2011, and more than $4,000 worth of food already purchased, Stacy said, she worried about financial hardship in the future, especially with few job prospects.

“It’s going to be horrible,” she said. “Suddenly I’m going to be a single parent again. Amelia’s going to ask me 15 times a day where her dad is.”

And, according to Mikey, the whole process started with a lost court summons.

Missed paperwork

The deportation order came after Mikey, who was arrested in December 2007 in Buffalo, N.Y. for an expired visitor’s visa, failed to show up for court proceedings after posting bond.

He said he never received the paperwork telling him when to show up, and that the court mistakenly sent it to an uncle’s address in Illinois — even after he gave court officers his Baraboo address.

And for some reason, he said, his uncle never received the paperwork, either.

“We were told it would take a while,” Stacy said. “We thought we would get notice.”

The couple didn’t discover the lapse until they hired a lawyer to move the court proceedings from Buffalo to Chicago, for convenience. It was then they discovered that Mikey’s deportation already had been ordered.

Mikey, whose original visa lasted six months, said he did not attempt to get a new visa at the time because he worked long hours and struggled with the English language enough at the time that he did not understand the process.

“Seven days a week, 15 hours a day,” he said. “I do not speak English, I do not know where to go.”

The couple has fought the order for the past two years, taking more than 10 trips to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in downtown Chicago in that time. After their first round of appeals was denied in July, they’re now waiting to hear from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on a motion to reconsider.

Once Mikey is back in Macedonia, he may have to wait 10 years to try to re-enter the country. It all depends on the couple’s second obstacle — proving their love.

Marriage questioned

They’ve been together for five years, and married in August 2008, but the process for getting that approved — a step that would help Mikey obtain permanent resident status — is also in limbo after immigration officials said they needed more evidence the marriage was real.

They went to the standard interview and submitted photographs of themselves together, the lease from the apartment they’ve shared since 2006, and even a petition signed by two dozen friends and family members, but they still are waiting for Mikey to be approved as Stacy’s “alien relative.”

Stacy said she thought part of the problem was prejudice, as, besides Amelia, she has four other children, and all have different fathers.

“They are more committed to each other than any other couple I know,” said Tracy Simmons, Stacy’s sister. “They have a real relationship.”


‘Bad situation’

Glorily Lopez, an immigration attorney in Madison and the chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said cases like the Imeris’ were common in her practice, and she heard of individuals in the same situation “on a weekly basis.”

“Congress authorized a lot more funding appropriated to increasing Immigration and Customs Enforcement budgets ... to execute thousands and thousands of standing orders of removal,” she said. “So they’ve been busy.”

Lopez said the process for getting Mikey back, too, will be “Herculean.” Even after the sincerity of their relationship is proven, the couple faces “at least a year and a half” of paperwork, at the end of which Stacy must prove that she will face “extreme hardship” without her spouse.

And if Stacy can’t prove that? Mikey will have to wait 10 years before he can enter the United States.

“It is a very bad situation,” Mikey said.

1 comment:

Stacy Imeri said...

And after proving the relationship it is now four and a half years later and we are waiting for the hardship waiver to be approved. It has been and is an even greater hardship than I could have ever imagined. Not to mention that on January 29th, 2010 the appeal was approved by the Washington D.C. board of immigration and the deportation order was removed. Only one day too late.