My name is Daniel Gheorgiu and I have been in the United States since 1992, since the age of 14 when my parents brought me over from Romania to escape the violent political unrest in Eastern Europe. We witnessed the Romanian revolution (outside our residence in Bucharest). The new “free” government was composed of the same communists as with the previous Ceausescu regime. It was then that my parents decided to leave our precarious heritage in pursuit of real freedom.
We arrived in Phoenix AZ in 1992 with two suitcases, approximately $300.00 to our name, not speaking any English other then knowing a couple of song titles. What we did have was a desire to see what was possible for us inside of the Big American Dream.
Just over 2.5 years later, a couple months after turning seventeen, I graduated High School at the top of my graduating class. I had a college Scholarship and was speaking English fluently. While in high school, I also played three varsity sports - football, soccer and tennis - and managed to be recognized at different times as our school’s “student of the week” and “student of the month”.
I quickly received an AA Degree cum laude from Phoenix College and received a “Screen Director” and “Producer” degrees from Hollywood Film Institute. After receiving my degrees, I went back to school for an additional semester so I could play one last season of college soccer.
After that, I turned my full focus to building a career. In February of 2000 I opened my own production business, after only two months of working full time for someone else in the production industry, and quickly learned to enjoy the joys and challenges of entrepreneurship.
As a film and video director producer/director, my work has won over a half dozen national and international awards. I have worked on some of the most prestigious events in America, such as the Super Bowl, NCAA National Championships, Presidential speeches, and the Presidential Election on election night at one of the two parties H.Q. I had the distinction of directing the video coverage on election eve at the McCain/Palin campaign center at the Biltimore Hotel In Phoenix.
I have worked for a great number of Fortune 500 companies helping with their conferences, video tapes and numerous communications projects. In these projects I consistently hire highly qualified video production technicians so that not only am I contributing to these ventures, I am also able to enlarge the circle of opportunities for others.
Now that you know a little bit about my background, let me tell you why I am writing this letter. I am currently in Eloy, AZ in the ICE jail awaiting to be deported to Romania. This is after 17 years of living in the U.S. and Phoenix – the only home I know – as a working, contributing member of the community.
Here is why:
When I came to the United States at the age of 14, I arrived with my parents on a Tourist Visa. Once they were here, my parents immediately applied for political asylum. Since I was a minor, I remained on my parents asylum application. At the age of 21, I hired a lawyer to separate my case from my parents’ case, but somehow the cases were kept together throughout the lengthy processes that lasted two and a half decades.
In my parents’ case, they followed every rule and regulation in their petition for asylum. They filed and re-filed papers and pursued all legal options when each negative result was returned. Eventually the case made it to the 9th circuit court of appeals.
At that point we hired another lawyer who said had experience with the 9th circuit court of appeals. We were told that this process could take several years to resolve and he laid out a strategy for him to pursue on our behalf. We agreed, signed a contract, made our down payment and let the attorney do his job.
In the meantime, all of us continued to build productive lives. I was now married to the woman I loved and we had a baby girl. In 2005 we bought an investment property which my parents lived in as their home.
This is a critical item:
From that new address my parents filed in 2006 for their employment authorization with the immigration services and received a confirmation of receiving application. Immigration services stated they would be sending them an employment application, or denial, within 90 days. We did not take this as an important part of our plans since, for the previous 15 years, these types of exchanges had never arrived on time or without errors. So we simply made sure we were current with any required correspondence.
January 1st, 2007. The whole family was in Flagstaff celebrating New Years. From our hard work, we were looking forward to many positive things in 2007. My production business was growing. My parents and I had launched a new TV show about art and it was being featured on the cover of a local magazine in Phoenix. My parents, my wife’s parents, my wife’s brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, mostly everyone was there to bring in what should have been a rewarding year.
My father had to work the next day so he left the gathering early. We said goodbye, planning to see him in a couple of days back at my parents’ home. It never happened. In fact, this goodbye was the last words I would have with them in person.
On January 9th 2007 I was working on the production of a corporate conference out of town. Late that morning, I received a call from my father. As soon as I answered I noticed his somber mood. “ I have bad news” he said. “We were arrested by immigration at 6 am when they picked us up from the house while I was still sleeping.”
Near nauseous and trying to grasp the situation, I was forced to excuse myself from my client, who I must tell you was thankfully understanding. I started making a lot of phone calls to lawyers, friends and everyone I could think of that might be able to help.
It was during this frantic period that it came to find out that my parents case was essentially mine, that it was dismissed by the 9th circuit because no papers were ever filed by our lawyer. Whether “clerical error” or gross negligence, this simple fact would re-chart the path of my life.
The court sent a notice to our old address to notify us that no papers were filed and we had a limited time to reply. You understand that all this was done in 2006, after we had moved to a new address.
Eventually the case had been closed late in 2006 and now without any notification received by us. ICE arrested my parents with the intention of deporting them. I would have been in the some situation if I would have been at my house that morning.
When ICE was asked about why the court papers had been sent to the old address, their answer was that they sent it to the address in the system and it was our fault that they did not have the proper address, we didn’t upgrade it. This is simply not true. We had “upgraded” it and in fact had received mail from them at the new address. And they didn’t seem to have any problem with the correct address when it came to arresting us.
My 60 year old parents spent just over 2 months in the jail in Florence, AZ after which they were both allowed a suitcase packed by friends and family prior to being deported. None of us had ever broken the law or engaged in any activity that would require us to be jailed. After 15 years of re-building their lives they were now abandoned by the United States and sent back to the oppression they had courageously sought to escape years ago. It was a country they neither recognized nor could adapt to.
Now I had even larger responsibilities. I was a father of a 3 year old that needed her daddy, and had to support my aging and sick parents who had just been forced to move back to Romania. I could not let my little girl, who already spoke 3 languages, grow up without a father. I certainly did not want to be forced like a criminal from the place that was and always will be my home - Phoenix, Arizona.
It was clear that there was no hope, and certainly no justice, to be had through any of the legal entities of the government. My family had faithfully abided and cooperated with all of them and we had paid for it. So I began to conduct my affairs in whatever way I could that would provide a foundation for my wife and daughter, even if it meant watching over my shoulder, driving instead of flying, triple verifying that new business contacts were not disguised advances of the immigration service.
The lines between what was normal life and what was survival were now completely blurred for me. Inevitably, this took the predicable toll not only on me but on my family and in particular my marriage. In time, the stress related to my family immigration status overwhelmed and strained our relationship to the point of irreparable damage. Somewhere in this madness, divorce proceedings were started.
On Monday, August 10, 2009, my now 5 year old daughter started 1st grade.
On Thursday, August 13, ICE arrested me and threw me in jail awaiting deportation. ICE picked me up while preparing to walk into a judges hearing about my divorce.
The next actions will come swiftly and that is why I am writing. My own deportation is imminent, within days.
I have no legal recourse at this point, in fact no recourse at all that is recognized by the American system of laws and regulations.
The only thing that will allow me to remain a contributing member to this society is for you to recognize that I am not a criminal. That I have devoted myself to creating stability and creativity for now 17 years. I am an asset to this country. Yet I am arrested as a criminal. My “wrap sheet” contains professional honors, family devotion, personal social networks and financial responsibility. And yet I now have less of a chance to stay in the U.S. than murderers, rapists and petty thieves.
I’m not asking for sympathy. I’m asking you to do what you would not ordinarily have a chance to do: make a difference in the lives of the people who pass before you other than to shuttle them off to an undeserving status.
If you are reading this letter, it means it has been sent to you from the office of Senator John McCain of Arizona. While he states he has no direct authority to change the mechanism of this bureaucratic machinery, he does feel strongly enough to send this letter to you. Please respect that passion and sincerity and use whatever power you do have to change the outcome of my life. This small effort on your part will be the difference between allowing me to truly live and contribute to the people I care for. This is not an action you can “think about.” I am literally waiting for the door to open and be tossed out of the country.
There is a litany of “I can’t believes” here.
*I can’t believe that a portion of the tax money I have paid faithfully for all of my adult life is being used to pay a private corporation to keep me locked up.
*That my family is being lacerated and separated because of a failure by the Immigration Service to track their paper work.
*That a story like that this – families escaping to freedom and rebuilding their lives – the quintessential American story, is being smashed by the same government that claims to be the beacon for that spirit.
I’m not someone who “fell through the cracks” of justice.I’m not an “unlucky guy screwed by the system.”
I am a citizen of the American society. I am the father of an American preschooler. I am a contributing force in a creative profession. This is my home.
If you believe in the words written around the Statue of Liberty; if you understand that the power to change lives is yours; If you accept the responsibility of standing up in the face of unspeakable disregard of human values; If you see that my “case” could just as easily be your “case”... or your son’s... or your daughters, Then I ask that you take the actions required to stop this deportation immediately and return me permanently to my home, my work and my commitments.
You are my last hope.