Only on 10: Block Island man recounts arrest by immigration authorities
It started out as a typical Tuesday morning on Block Island.
Meriton Gurguri, 29, had just clocked into work at the Block Island Grocery when he was arrested for overstaying his J-1 visa, which expired almost seven years ago.
“I was right here at register two when a local police officer asked me if I could walk with him to the back room. That’s when I met the ICE immigration officers,” said Gurguri, who manages the Block Island Grocery.
Immigration agents took Gurguri away on a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter on Feb. 27.
The 29-year-old Kosovo native told NBC 10 News he always feared the government would find him. He's been living 13 miles off the Rhode Island mainland since 2011, after overstaying his visa. He first came to Block Island to work the summer of 2010 and returned the following summer.
“I love this place,” Gurguri said. “That’s why I did not want to go anywhere else.”
He said he was busy working, sending money back to his family in Kosovo, when his visa ran out. Gurguri decided to stay and take his chances.
“When we came out of the war [in Kosovo], my family’s house was completely burned. And my family had no place to live,” Gurguri said. “So, when I came, I had to work as hard as I was and when I say that -- over 100 hours a week.”
An immigration judge ordered in March that Gurguri be released on bond and cited the overwhelming support Gurguri received from people on Block Island. His boss, Mary Jane Balser, helped raise $14,000 to cover his legal fees and bond.
“I was literally amazed by it,” Gurguri said. “That was actually the reason that I had courage to go on.”
When asked if he felt safe living in Kosovo, Gurguri responded, “Absolutely not.”
His attorney, David Borts, didn’t want him to elaborate on life in Kosovo for legal reasons. Borts said it's troubling that immigration officials would arrest a man with no criminal record.
“We have people who are not charged with crimes, who have done nothing that violates the spirit of our country and they find themselves detained,” Borts said.
Gurguri plans to file for political asylum. If that’s granted, he can then apply to get his U.S. Green Card.