A former Southgate resident has been living in a Detroit church for over a year, evading a court order for his deportation and being labeled a fugitive by the government.
A former Southgate resident has been living in a Detroit church for over a year, remaining in the country he’s called home for 18 years while providing care for his sick wife.
These are two of the lenses through which Ded Rranxburgaj can be viewed. A short film being released online April 12 will frame the story through that of another — the camera of Scott Boehm.
Titled “Walking For Ded,” the 8-minute film focuses on a pilgrimage from Detroit to Lansing undertaken in May 2018 on behalf of Rranxburgaj.
Spearheaded by the Rev. Jill Zundel of Central United Methodist Church — where Rranxburgaj is living — and Caitlin Homrich-Knieling of Michigan United, the journey was an attempt to raise awareness of the situation.
"The situation was very desperate," Homrich-Knieling said. "We knew we needed to reach more and more people to spread the word about what was happening with this family, to get more and more supporters, to build public support for them and to put more pressure on (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the local field director, Rebecca Adducci."
Homrich-Knieling said the Rranxburgaj family initially came to the U.S. from Albania seeking asylum. At some point during the subsequent legal proceedings, Rranxburgaj's wife, Flora, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
As a result, Zundel said, ICE had granted the Rranxburgajs humanitarian stays to remain in the country for 13 years. Then, a couple years ago, things changed.
“Two years ago, (Rranxburgaj) was told to self-deport and buy a one-way ticket back to Albania,” Zundel said. “He worked with his immigration attorney to fight that, but when it became obvious that there wasn’t anything else to do … they made the decision to move into the church.”
That was in January 2018. Zundel said she didn’t expect him to be at the church for “a couple months, let alone over a year.” As time went on and nothing changed, she and Homrich-Knieling decided to embark on a 90-mile march to the Michigan State Capitol building, stopping along the way to share Rranxburgaj’s story.
"I found out about the pilgrimage and decided, with my co-producer Peter Johnston, to film the pilgrimage and turn it into this film," Boehm said. “I made a film on (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy) and wanted to further explore immigration issues as they relate to Michigan."
This is the second film for Boehm, an assistant professor at Michigan State University.
“Both this film and the previous film are trying to speak truth to power," he said. "What’s been concerning to Peter and myself is the degree of rhetoric in the current political climate. We wanted to use film as a way to intervene in the debates taking place — and hopefully to improve Ded’s situation.”
To learn more about the film, visit walkingforded.com.