Grass-roots immigration documentary TONY & JANINA’S AMERICAN WEDDING leads to mother’s U.S. homecoming

Director Ruth Leitman’s award-winning film created national awareness of Polish immigrant case, drawing praise from immigrants rights stakeholders and everyday Americans. Janina Wasilewski returns to Chicago today, four years after her deportation

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The New York Times


When Polish immigrant Janina Wasilewski steps into the terminal at O’Hare airport this afternoon with her American-born son Brian, it will mark the end of a 20-year odyssey and the realization of a dream for both the Wasilewski family and the film’s director Ruth Leitman.


Janina Wasilewski came to the U.S. legally seeking political asylum from communistPoland in 1989, and worked for 18 years to become a U.S. citizen, only to bedeported in 2007. She took her then-six year old son Brian with her, barred by current U.S. immigration policy from returning for 10 years, and leaving her husband Tony in the U.S. to fight for his family’s return.

Tony & Janina’s American Wedding follows the Wasilewski family through the red tape of the current U.S. immigration system, telling the unbelievable human rights story of post-9/11 that every undocumented immigrant in America faces today. The film details Janina’s deportation in 2007, and Tony’s financial,personal and emotional struggle to restore his wife’s honor and reunite hisfamily in the U.S.

Director Leitman worked closely with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and the Polish Initiative, who were both strong early advocates against Janina’s deportation, and helped open the door for Leitman to take the film and the story to immigration groups across the country.


Leitman also worked with the family’s attorney Royal Berg and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) to bring the story to the legal community as an example of how severely broken our current immigration laws are.


Following Tony’s testimony at the Congressional hearing on the STRIVE Act for immigration reform in 2007, Leitman pushed to draw attention to the film and the familywith members of Congress, leading to a Capitol Hill screening in partnershipwith U.S. Representative Mike Quigley in 2010.


Ultimately, Leitman worked for four years to shine a light on our country’s brokenimmigration laws by sharing the Wasilewski family’s story at screenings with community groups, universities, law schools, faith-based organizations and immigrants rights groups.


Leitman’s grass roots campaign crisscrossed the U.S. starting in October 2010, and, armed with letters of support from Quigley, U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez, U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren, Senator Dick Durbin, AILA and dozens of other organizations, the film and Janina’s case were brought to the attention of key leaders in the Obama administration earlier this year.


Leitman’s grass roots campaign bore fruit when Janina’s most recent Appeal to the 10-year bar, filed by attorney Berg and supported by letters from all the representatives named above, was granted by USCIS on July 1, 2011.