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'My daughter belongs here'
Snafu could mean long stay in Poland
Polish Girl 3 es
Barbara Szulinska watches her granddaughter Ewelina Bledniak, 10, at Bledniak's Forsyth home. Bledniak will live with Szulinska after she is deported to Poland. - photo by Emily Saunders


* Similar plight faces owner of city bakery.

Ewelina Bledniak has mixed emotions about traveling to Poland the week after her 11th birthday.

Bledniak, who is facing deportation resulting from a paperwork error, must leave the country before July 23 to avoid the penalty. She will fly July 20 to Warsaw, Poland.

The rising sixth-grader said she's somewhat excited to make the trip, but is "also sad because of the consequences."

Though a native of the eastern European country, she has lived in Forsyth County since before her second birthday.

While the voluntary departure from America would prevent a 10-year ban on her return, it could also take up to one year before she is granted re-entry.

“She doesn’t know what is involved with legal immigration rules, she just knows she’s going to Poland and we don’t know when she’s going to be back,” said Bledniak’s father, Hubert. “We’re all nervous.

"If we could at least know how long this is going to take, we could know how to act. But it seems we’re facing something that we don’t quite know how long is going to take. Everything is unknown. It’s going to be tough for her.”

Her father and mother, Agnes, will accompany their daughter to Warsaw. She will stay with her maternal grandmother, Barbara Szulinska, until her paperwork is resolved.

Hubert Bledniak, owner of Tile South, a tile manufacturing company, can stay with his daughter for just a few weeks. His wife plans to stay longer and may decide to leave her job at Modavi Restaurant to remain with their daughter in Poland.

In 1992 at age 17, Hubert Bledniak moved from Poland to America, where he has remained. He has since become a naturalized citizen. His wife, who moved from Poland in 1999, is a lawful permanent resident.

Their daughter was also supposed to be a permanent resident, but Hubert Bledniak said the family’s attorney did not file the child’s paperwork until nearly a year after the April 2001 deadline. By then, it was too late.

Bledniak is holding out hope that within the next few weeks a resolution can be reached that allows his daughter to stay in Forsyth County.

“We shouldn’t be separated. I live here, I pay taxes and I’m supposed to be protected by the law,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m treated as a citizen.

“This is my child, my own child ... I got my citizenship, my wife got her green card. I think no matter what, my daughter belongs here.”

Bill Wright, spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the case is being looked at carefully.

But because it's pending, Wright could not reveal specific information about the case, other than to say the main concern is ensuring the law was followed in the girl’s entry to the country.

“We are very sympathetic of this case,” he said. “It’s heart wrenching to look at.

“There are other cases in which USCIS has been involved in where you work with the families, you go above and beyond to make sure every possible remedy is looked at, to make sure that somebody isn’t being unduly treated ... and this agency is doing just that.”

Wright said the department has options to help expedite the process for the child.

The law must be followed, but possibilities include resolving the issue before she departs, reducing the amount of time she must wait in Poland or offering humanitarian parole, which would allow her to stay in America while being processed.

The family has hired a new lawyer and is contacting everyone they can think of for help.

“We wrote a letter to President [Barack] Obama and we wrote a letter to Sen. [Johnny] Isakson and we contacted him by phone,” said Hubert Bledniak. “He’s going to try to help us to speed up the process.”

Sheridan Watson, Isakson’s press secretary, confirmed the Bledniaks’ plea.

“We have been in touch with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on their behalf,” she said. “It’s our understanding their case is currently being reviewed and we have made USCIS aware of our strong interest in this case.”

Szulinska, who speaks little English, has come to the United States about six times in the past decade to visit her family, bringing chocolates and candy from their homeland.

She is currently in Forsyth County to help her granddaughter get used to speaking Polish on a regular basis.

“She’s going to be the person I know the most,” Ewelina Bledniak said. “I barely know anyone else. It‘s going to feel like they’re complete strangers.”

Though the family speaks both English and Polish at home, she said it will take some getting used to if she has to attend school in Poland.

“There’s going to be one English class. Like you know how here, it’s Spanish. In Poland, it’s English,” she said. “So that’s going to be very, very easy.”

Her purple bedroom displays many of her artistic creations. But in addition to drawing and making origami figures, Ewelina Bledniak loves to dance. For the past six years, she has taken jazz and ballet classes at the North Atlanta Dance Academy.

Kitty Garrison, co-owner of the academy, said Agnes Bledniak recently broke the news her daughter would have to stop taking classes for a while.

“I think it’s really ridiculous that somebody whose parents are citizens, and who is just a child, could be sent back for paperwork errors when we have many, many, many illegal people coming into this country who are not monitored,” Garrison said.

“That’s just terrible to break a family up. She’s a very respectful and well-mannered young lady and very much an American girl.”
E-mail Jennifer Sami at