Condo residents fight for immigrant chief engineer they love - and need

Word that Marco Antonio Rua has been ordered deported has sparked shock and action at the Bethesda condo complex where he works.
By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 16, 2010; 10:18 PM

For 15 years, Marco Antonio Rua fixed toilets, replaced broken pipes and answered desperate midnight calls from residents of the Wisconsin, a 204-unit condominium in North Bethesda.

Now the residents have gone to work for him.

In September, immigration authorities ordered Rua and his 17-year-old daughter to leave the United States after his family's petition for permanent residency was turned down. Rua marked his last day of work at the Wisconsin on Tuesday.

The news of Rua's impending deportation shocked those at the condominium, whose well-connected residents include a U.S. senator, Hawaii's Daniel Inouye. In recent weeks, residents have lobbied Congress and the Department of Homeland Security, asking them to let Rua and his family remain in the country.

Gail Shultie, the Wisconsin's property manager, said that a petition circulated on Rua's behalf garnered 333 signatures within 24 hours. When she slipped a note under the doors of residents asking for donations to pay for Rua's legal fees, 15 checks totaling $2,400 came in within two hours.

"I have 204 angels behind me," Rua, 43, said as his teary-eyed wife, Liliana Rosario Rua, and his daughter, Andrea Rua, a freshman at Montgomery College, nodded. "No matter what happens, I am never going to forget what they did for me."

Even as anti-immigrant sentiment has swelled in large swaths of the country, many communities are willing to do battle for individual immigrants who have become part of their lives. Each year, their lobbying efforts produce scores of private bills in Congress seeking to grant individual immigrants legal residency. Few are passed.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has been one of the leading sponsors of private bills, with 29 introduced. They've been aimed, she said, "at helping families who are facing exceptional circumstances. These are people with no criminal backgrounds, who pay their taxes, who excel in school. In short, they are good members of the community who would face enormous hardship if deported."

In addition to the private bills, immigration officials also defer deportations in 500 to 900 cases a year, said Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "ICE uses discretion on a case-by-case basis as appropriate and has the authority to grant a deferral of removal action based on the merits of an individual's case," she said.

Rua, who was born in Peru and came to the United States on a Spanish passport in 1995, has made himself indispensable to residents of the Wisconsin. His ingenuity has saved the condo thousands of dollars in maintenance and repairs, they said.

The campaign to help Rua "is not altogether altruistic," said Jerry Pruzan, vice president of the condo board. "We need him."

Rua said his family received faulty legal advice while petitioning the government to stay in the country. Rua obtained work authorization through his wife's application for permanent residency, but when that application was denied because it had not been filed properly, Rua was told that he would have to leave.

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