UPDATE: In a surprise happy ending to the story below, the Wasilewskis were finally reunited on August 7 as Janina and her son Brian landed in Chicago after being separated for four years from her husband Tony. She returned to the United States legally and with a permanent resident’s green card in hand. According to the New York Times, the Wasilewskis eventually won their drawn-out immigration battle when the authorities reversed course in July on Janina’s deportation based on the hardship that the separation had caused to the family. According to the report, Tony “had an ulcer, a heart attack and bouts of depression and started drinking heavily.” It was only after Tony declined into this condition that the immigration authorities considered the hardship standard to have been met.
Besides Tony’s unrelenting efforts, the family has also been tirelessly supported by many others who have contributed to their reunion, especially their lawyer Royal F. Berg, Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez, and documentary filmmaker Ruth Leitman. Read more on the Wasilewski story and watch our Skype conversation with Ruth Leitman and Tony Wasilewski below.
It’s a deportation love story, as heartbreaking as it is empowering. Tony and Janina Wasilewski both came to the United States from Poland over 18 years ago, at the time unknown to one another. While Tony came on a work visa, Janina came seeking asylum from the then Communist government of her homeland. The two met, fell in love, got married and began their life together in Chicago. Some years later the birth of their son, Brian, further cemented their family as well as their family’s American identity.
However, the American life and happy family they had built was then torn apart when Janina was deported back to Poland in 2007. She had been locked in a long battle with immigration authorities who insisted that she didn’t qualify for asylum any more since Poland was no longer Communist. It didn’t matter, it turns out, that her husband was a naturalized U.S. citizen and her son was born an American. Janina was sent back to Poland after 18 years, taking her son along but leaving Tony behind.
The Wasilewski story became the subject of a compelling documentary called ‘Tony and Janina’s American Wedding‘ by filmmaker Ruth Leitman.
Restore Fairness recently had a Skype video chat with Ruth Leitman and Tony Wasilewski, where they spoke about the the effect this upheaval has had on the family, the current status of their struggle, and how their story serves as a potent reminder that our broken immigration system needs to be fixed urgently:
Leitman and Wasilewski also thanked the elected officials who have taken up their cause and supported them wholeheartedly, especially Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who has worked tirelessly on the issue.
Leitman concluded that the film has been shown in places where people didn’t necessarily agree with them, but some of them admitted to understanding this perspective better after watching the film. “The story of Tony and Janina and the story of the film is really intertwined,” she added, “We want to use the film to highlight the situation, reunite them, and to use their story in a way to reunite other families. The 800-pound gorilla in the room is that there is anti-Latino, anti-Muslim, anti-other sentiment in this country. So I think it’s really important sometimes to use a less likely human face, less usual face, to highlight what is systemically broken.”
For more information on ‘Tony and Janina’s American Wedding,’ the latest updates on the Wasilewskis’ immigration struggle, as well as to help raise awareness on this issue, visit the official website.
Photo courtesy of tonyandjanina.com