Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Once deported, Daneceks celebrate their U.S. citizenship (Star Tribune)

Once deported, Daneceks celebrate their U.S. citizenship
Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune Updated: June 8, 2011 - 7:43 PM

Since he was 16, Andrew Danecek has dreamed of calling the United States home.

"This was always my country," he said.

Now it really is.

Danecek, 61, and his wife, Blanka, 58, became American citizens June 1 at Bethel University in Arden Hills. They were joined in celebration by teary-eyed friends who longed for this day almost as much as the couple themselves did.

"It was very emotional for me," said Sid Konikoff, a friend since 1969, when he and Andrew met while traveling in Italy. "It's just been such an incredible journey from when I first met him."

Readers might remember the Daneceks, who fled Communist-controlled Czechoslovakia in 1988 with their two young sons, Christopher and Andy.

Andrew Danecek, a lawyer, was about to be arrested by the secret police for distributing banned literature and was tried in absentia. While living in a refugee camp in Austria awaiting political asylum, the couple learned that 9-year-old Christopher had leukemia.

In 1990, the family was granted humanitarian parole -- "time indefinite" -- which allowed them to come to the Twin Cities, where Christopher was treated at Children's Hospital of Minneapolis.

Konikoff and his wife, Anita, helped the Daneceks find an apartment in St. Louis Park. Blanka found work as a cleaning woman. Andrew worked on an assembly line for $6 an hour. Eventually, Andrew was hired as a child support officer for Hennepin County and Blanka became a commercial loan closer.

They diligently renewed their work permits annually, built a community of friends and rejoiced when Christopher's cancer went into remission.

"They didn't have one single social service agency helping them," said longtime friend Carol Just, a St. Louis Park hairdresser. "They did it on their own."

Then the unfathomable happened. In 1995, 18-year-old Andy, a St. Louis Park High School and St. Paul Academy academic and soccer standout, fell to his death in a climbing accident. Konikoff, who was traveling on the East Coast, rushed back. Just, whose daughter Kate was Andy's close friend, brought meals to the family and met Blanka regularly for lunch and support.

A year after Andy's death, the couple gave birth to daughter Blanche, who turned 15 on Wednesday.

"They got stronger," Just said. "They were truly living the American dream. And then this happened."

"This" was news in 2005 that the Daneceks were no longer welcome in the United States. Because Christopher, by then 26 and living in Boston, was in remission, their "indefinite" parole status no longer applied. The chilling shift, Andrew Danecek said, came as officials reviewed the status of thousands of immigrants after 9/11.

The Daneceks hired lawyer Herbert Igbanugo, and Just launched a petition drive to protest their deportation, gathering more than 1,000 signatures nationwide. The family received support, too, from then-U.S. Sens. Norm Coleman and Mark Dayton.

But nothing worked.

On July 13, 2005, Andrew, Blanka and Blanche, who had since moved to Maple Grove, boarded a flight for Prague, in what had since become the Czech Republic. Blanche had never been out of the United States.

"Legally, I could understand it," Andrew said this week. "But, psychologically, it was hard to swallow."

One hope remained. Christopher was married to an American woman. Two months after his parents were deported, he became a naturalized citizen, which allowed him to file a visa petition requesting their return to the United States. Seven months later, in February 2006, they flew back to the Twin Cities on immigrant visas that set the stage for citizenship.

Friends had taken care of their dachshund, Charlie, while they were gone. Andrew got his job back but lost seniority. Blanka was eventually hired by a title company, then a financial institution. The process cost the Daneceks nearly $30,000, Andrew said. They're hoping this is the last time they'll have to rebuild.

Their friends have the same hope.

"I grew to love this family," Just said of the Daneceks. "I'm fascinated by people who leave everything behind. I don't know if I could have done that."

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