Kde Domov Muj? The Danacek deportation debacle

04-08-2005

The Daneceks were for years a fairly normal Czech-American family, living their lives, sending their kids to school and paying off their mortgage. But three weeks ago the family's lives were turned upside-down, when - after 15 years - they were deported from the United States. This expulsion is the latest in a series of misfortunes to have struck the Daneceks, who are now living in cramped temporary accommodation near Prague.

The Danecek's American adventure actually starts more than 15 years ago, in the communist Czechoslovakia of 1989. It was then that Blanka and Andrew Danecek, and their two sons, Andy and Christopher, decided to emigrate. As Andrew Danecek tells me, their goal was to reach America;

"We got permission from the government to go to Austria for 5 days. We pretended to go on vacation, and in fact we applied for political asylum in Austria. We applied for US political asylum and we had to stay and wait to be interviewed by US authorities in a refugee camp for almost two years. In that time there was total political turnaround in Czechoslovakia; the communism was gone, and technically there was no reason for us to be granted asylum in the US. We didn't fit refugee status. But meanwhile our younger son, Christopher got diagnosed as having leukaemia, and we finally got admitted to the United States to finalise his treatment at Minneapolis children's hospital in Minnesota, on what's called humanitarian parole."

The Daneceks started out humbly in America, with Andrew - who had previously been a lawyer - working for 6 dollars an hour on an assembly line. His wife, Blanka, cleaned hotel rooms. The pair and their two sons stayed on a friend's floor.

But in true American dream style, things got better; they both found long-term employment and moved into their own house. In Andrew's opinion, they ended up being fully integrated into American society;

"We were issued social security cards, we were paying taxes, we had medical insurance. I actually worked for the establishment myself. And my wife works as a credit adviser and loan officer for TCF bank in Minneapolis. We were totally accepted in society, and sometimes they even made fun of us, you know, we were more American than some regular American Americans. We even got a Minnesota accent. We felt totally adjusted, especially after we had a child there. Our daughter was born in 1996 in Minneapolis, and so she's American by birth."

Around about this time, their son Christopher's illness was declared as being in remission. And with the leukaemia went the Daneceks' reason for living in the States. But despite this, they were issued with new work permits each year, without any fuss, and their lives continued as normal.

It was after September the 11th 2001 that the Daneceks visas were looked at again. According to immigration law, the Daneceks no longer had a valid reason to be living in the states, and so, eventually in 2005, Andrew, Blanka and their daughter Blanche were deported.

Their son Christopher remained in the US with his American wife, and is set to become an American citizen in the next couple of weeks.

The family now finds itself split across two different continents;

"In 1995 in Minnesota, we lost our older son Andy. He was in an unfortunate climbing accident and he has a memorial place established in Minnesota. We need to be there, we need to take care of his grave and keep his memory alive. This is so hard to accept, the fact that we might be separated from this place, and from Andy's memories forever. And it's the same with Christopher, we were torn apart. Our family has been torn apart because Christopher is in Boston and we are here."

It was on the 13th July that Andrew, Blanka and their nine year old daughter, Blanche, arrived in Prague. Since then they have lived in a series of apartments, and in friends' spare rooms. Andrew says that this is taking its toll on Blanche in particular;

"It's pretty hard for Blanche, because she has never been here, she was born in America, she doesn't understand what is going on, and we just told her that this is just a vacation, and she's just here to see her Grandma. And it's getting longer and longer and she's nervous - you know "when are we going home? I need to start school in September, so how is that going to happen?" So, it's hard on Blanche, very hard sometimes."

Blanche seems to be pretty clued up about what is going on, and is evidently distressed by the whole situation. She tells me about her dog, Charlie, who has had to be left behind in America, along with the rest of the Danecek's things;

"He's a dachshund, he's cute, he's very furry. He's a long-haired dog, a long-haired dachshund. He's about my Mum's hair colour and I think he turned three in May. Right now a person is taking care of him."

Blanche's anxiety has been manifesting itself physically. In the last couple of weeks she has been having constant stomach aches;

"I miss my house, I miss my dog, I miss my friends, and my stomach has been hurting because I'm really homesick."

Her parents go on;

"Frequently she has stomach aches and doesn't feel well. It's an uncertain situation, which doesn't help her. - But American songs and music heal her tummy ache immediately, which is amazing. She hears some radio show and immediately the tummy ache is gone. It's a psychological thing, obviously. - Yeah, we talked to a doctor actually yesterday, and she said that it's a psychological problem for her, that stomach ache."

And because the Daneceks' health insurance has run out, any trip to the doctors is an expensive headache for the whole family too.

But perhaps all is not lost. The Danecek's are being supported by their local senators in Minnesota, who are promising to speed up the family's return to the states. They have also received a lot of support from the American public;

"There is a petition on-line which has already been signed by more than a thousand people. The public support has been just amazing and has confirmed what I always knew and believed about America and Americans as well; that they are very straight-forward and fair people, with a huge sense of justice."

The Danecek's are pinning their hopes on their son, Christopher, who is due to be naturalised in the coming weeks. When he becomes an American citizen, he can then post applications for his parents to become citizens too. But all this bureaucracy will take some time, and until then...

"We are not sure how to manage. We are going to be losing our jobs in one month, our house is not being paid off, so we are just hoping that the situation will be resolved pretty soon."

It is a very uncertain chapter in the Danecek family's life, and there is frustratingly little that they can do to change that. But while they readjust to life using Czech crowns, and in their mother tongue - friends and sympathisers over the water are doing all they can to speed the Daneceks return.

04-08-2005