Salesman fears death if deported

April 08, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Steva Jaksic whiles away the days playing chess in the Dorchester County jail, a man without a country.

Before dawn March 2, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agents surrounded his Glen Burnie townhouse, rousted him from sleep, announced that he would be deported, and took the 41-year-old pajama-clad car salesman away in a van while his American wife screamed.

Mr. Jaksic, whose tourist visa expired eight years ago, is part Bosnian and part Croatian by heritage, Serbian by birth and hails from a Communist Yugoslavia that no longer exists. He is terrified of being deported and becoming a casualty of ethnic hostilities where he was born.

"No matter where he ends up, he could get killed," said his lawyer, Mark Maier, of Wheaton. "Besides, he doesn't speak the language."

Mr. Jaksic was born in 1952 in a suburb of Belgrade, the capital of the former Yugoslavia. But his family moved to West Germany when he was 13. He was educated there, learning to be a mechanic for German-made cars. He speaks German, but barely a word of Serbo-Croatian.

If deported to the predominantly Serbian Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, he "would probably be dead" because he is not an ethnic Serb, he said in a telephone interview from jail.

Because of the ethnic war between the Serbs and Croats, he would not be welcomed by Croatia -- where the government has an uneasy truce with Serbs -- or Bosnia-Herzegovina -- site of a three-way war among Muslims, Croats and Serbs.

"I am not clean either way," he said.

And, considering that Germany has tightened restrictions on non-Germans trying to enter, Mr. Jaksic doubts he could go to his parents' home in the southwest corner of the country. His parents are German citizens; he is not.

While he waits for an administrative law judge in Baltimore to decide whether to reopen his case -- which would allow him to seek asylum or restart the immigration process -- his wife, Theresa, smokes more Marlboros and cries more.

"My heart has been ripped out," she said, sobbing.

The INS office in Baltimore, which has not deported a Yugoslav native in a decade, is opposing Mr. Jaksic's legal maneuvers.

INS is not picky about where deportees go. If the nation a deportee chooses won't admit the person, INS goes down a list: country of citizenship, of birth, of last legal residence, and finally any country that will let the person in.

Mr. Maier said a decision could come as early as next week on reopening the case or at least delaying deportation of his client until the INS rules on the validity of his marriage, which could take two months.

Mr. Jaksic came to the United States in 1986 and overstayed his tourist visa. He took English classes, worked as a car mechanic and salesman.

In 1989 he married an American woman and filed the requisite INS papers. But the marriage soon soured and his former wife withdrew sponsorship of him, he said.

Then, like many illegal immigrants, he became afraid to go to the INS for fear that he would be deported.

In the summer of 1990, Mr. Jaksic met a dark-haired woman at the bar at Rascals in Towson. "We've been together ever since," said Theresa Jaksic.

They married July 20, 1992, despite an INS order for Mr. Jaksic to leave the country by July 25, 1992.

"We already knew there was an immigration problem. We got married not because there was an immigration problem, but because we love each other," Mrs. Jaksic said.

They were afraid if they went to the INS he would be deported.

"There were many, many nights that we cried. We were scared. '' We didn't know," Mrs. Jaksic said.

The couple sought help from Rep. Helen Delich Bentley -- the 2nd District Republican congresswoman who is of Serbian descent -- but came away disappointed.

"His problem is that he waited too long. Once you are under a deportation order, it becomes a legal matter," said Mary Street, spokeswoman for Ms. Bentley. "The only thing to do is get an attorney."

But the Jaksics say they couldn't afford a lawyer until Mr. Maier offered to help. They kept a low profile, praying no one would notice him.

"When the door knocked, every time I see a police car, I was worried," Mr. Jaksic said.

The approach is hardly unusual, said Barbara Jones, director of Refugee Services at Catholic Charities of Baltimore. "People ignore the deportation notice and hope no one finds them," she said.

But it's "pretty hard to get yourself deported," said Richard Kenney, an INS spokesman.

The INS estimates that as of October 1992, there were 3.2 million foreigners in the United States illegally, Mr. Kenney said.

In fiscal year 1992, the agency found 1.26 million aliens that could be deported, but sent only 37,794 -- about half of whom were criminals -- out of the country. That year, 23 Yugoslavians were deported, he said.

Only Yugoslavians from Bosnia-Herzegovina are eligible for temporary protective status because of the strife in their homeland.

Mr. Jaksic said he kept a low profile, working hard, not getting into trouble, and dreamed of eventually owning an automobile import-export business.

"I didn't count on the immigration," he said. "I don't blame nobody for what happened."

In the days after Mr. Jaksic was apprehended, Catholic Charities' refugee services helped Mrs. Jaksic with two INS forms: a $75 document to show a valid marriage and a $120 form to stay deportation due to a change in status.

Mrs. Jaksic, her parents, friends and co-workers have petitioned President Clinton and written letters to federal officials attesting to Mr. Jaksic's character.

Mrs. Jaksic's father, William Jones of Annandale, Va., said he sometimes posts the colors during citizenship ceremonies near Alexandria. Holding the U.S. flag for his son-in-law's ceremony would thrill him, he said.

And Mr. Jaksic as well, who said he just wants to live in peace with his wife, raise a family, work and have an uneventful life.

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