Written by Mariano Cardoso:
For many undocumented immigrants, the worst possible fear is being separated from their families and loved ones. After having faced such a nightmare, one family–Tony, Janina and Brian Wasilewski–have finally been reunited. Last month, thanks largely to the efforts of U.S. Reps Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), federal authorities reversed course and granted Janina a waiver to return to the U.S. She and her son, Brian, landed at Chicago’s O’Hare airport yesterday, and were greeted by a tearful Tony and about a hundred well-wishers and supporters.
This family’s story is truly a remarkable one.
The American journey of Tony and Janina began separately in 1989, as they escaped communist Poland to live in the suburbs of Chicago. After arriving here on visas, they took different courses applying for citizenship. Tony managed to obtain a green card, and eventually became a citizen. Janina, on the other hand, applied for political asylum based on her anti-Communist activism in her home country. She promptly applied when she arrived in the US from Poland, but after years of delay in paperwork, Polish Communist rule ended and an immigration judge denied her asylum petition.
The Wasilewskis met in Chicago and fell in love. In 1993, they got married and had their son Brian in 2001. However, only a year after she had gotten married, Janina was denied asylum. Thus began the family’s 15 year fight with the immigration system. Devastatingly, in 2007, Janina received a letter notifying her that her stay of deportation request had been denied. The family’s story was documented by film maker, Ruth Leitman, who eventually turned their story into a documentary entitled Tony & Janina’s American Wedding. The film, which premiered in 2010, put a much needed face to a heated immigration debate.
When Janina was deported in 2007, the couple made the decision to send their U.S.-born son, Brian, back to Poland with her. The breakup of the Wasilewski family has been hard on all of them, but perhaps most on Tony. Living without his two most beloved ones has not been easy to endure. Although he had gone back to Poland at least a dozen times since his wife was deported, Tony was not able to tolerate the separation.