U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and two Albanian immigrants from Prospect made a case for immigration reform Monday, highlighting the 16 and 18 months respectively that they spent in a federal detention facility in Alabama.
Blumenthal’s office intervened in the cases of Valent Kolami and Adrian Emin. The men, who have lived in the U.S. for 13 years, were detained after their visas expired. Both faced deportation, which has now been stayed for a year. Kolami was released Oct. 31 after the senator met with the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Despite being here illegally, the two men have built lives in the United States. They co-operate a masonry business that employs six people. Both have families with children ranging from 10 to 16 years old.
“Their story really is a typical one,” Blumenthal said. “The details may differ but their story is increasingly an American story of immigrants who come here for economic opportunity as well as freedom, then, unfortunately they are detained.”
Emin, who was released in August, spent 16 months in an Alabama detention facility. Kolami was detained for 18 months. Blumenthal said the stay cost the two men, their families, and the taxpayers a great deal. He said it should not have taken that long, given that neither Emin or Kolami had a criminal record aside from living in the U.S. without proper documentation.
Blumenthal said that many of the 11 million people living in the country without proper documentation have similar stories. He said they highlight the need to legislate a path to U.S. citizenship and to change federal immigration enforcement policy so the government detains fewer people.
“They have lived in this country under constant threat of deportation despite their being gainfully employed and having close family ties,” Blumenthal said. “And that it is a powerful argument for immigration reform.”
Kolami said he did not want to see other immigrants experience the same lengthy detention. He said he hopes Congress will address the nation’s immigration system.
“We come to America for better life for ourself and for our kids. And we try to build our life by the law to this country,” Kolami said. “. . . We want to come out of the shadow. We want to live like everybody in America.”
The U.S. Senate passed bipartisan legislation in June that would have created a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. However, the House of Representatives has not raised the bill. Blumenthal said both Kolami and Emin would have been eligible to seek citizenship under the legislation.
Despite recent gridlock in Congress, Blumenthal said he was optimistic something would be approved on the immigration front.
“I really do believe this is an idea whose time has come. If you listen to these stories, if you hear these voices, you conclude that the United States of America is better than [treating] people this way. We are better than [locking] up folks who come to this country simply to pursue the American dream,” he said.
There is bipartisan support for reforming a path to citizenship, enabling highly skilled workers to immigrate, and strengthening border security, Blumenthal said, adding that the current system, with all of its red tape, is “un-American.”
“I say that as a lawyer who is mystified by the delays and the obstacles that are presented to immigrants like Adrian and Valent,” he said.
Kolami said he hopes Blumenthal is right to be optimistic.
“We hope something is going to happen with immigration reform. Not just for us — for everybody who is illegal who want to stay,” he said.