Angel Slavov and his wife Margarita Panova are lifelong circus people who enjoy top billings in their home country of Bulgaria.
Seven years ago, Slavov brought his family to the United States under a contract to perform their acrobatics on horseback for the Ringling Brothers and Barum & Bailey Circus.
Now Slavov, his wife and 7-year-old daughter, who also performs with the circus, are accused of being illegal aliens. Technically, they have overstayed their visas and could be subject to deportation if the attorney for the circus doesn't straighten out the long-overdue paperwork within 30 days.
"I don't understand the situation," Slavov said yesterday as he waited to be processed in the Baltimore immigration office. "We have a lawyer in the circus and he's supposed to fix these problems."
While the Immigration and Naturalization Service says it has no intention of closing down the circus, which has been performing at Baltimore's Civic Center, their raids last week have at least put a crimp into the massive production.
Immigration investigators found that 18 of the top performers from Bulgaria and Rumania have been lacking proper visas and passports since at least last Dec. 31. In addition, another segment of the circus which is now performing in Raleigh, N.C., may have a number of foreign employes in violation, immigration officials said.
Robert B. Short, assistant district director for investigation at the Baltimore immigration office, said he was "no going to put the blame on anyone" but some of these people have been out of status since last November."
The performers have been served with 30-day voluntary departure notices. In the meantime, Short said, "We are going to allow them to continue performing."
Part of the problem, according to immigration investigator G. Thomas Graber, is that the performers come from Communist countries. Immigration laws require that passports for people from Communist countries be valid for at least six months after the visa expires, probably to be sure they can return home, Graber said.
The attorney for the circus, Maurice Spiegel of New York City said he was late submitting the passports for extensions because the performers didn't turn them over to him, so he was also late in applying for extensions of the visas.
The passports are still in the hands of the Bulgarian and Rumanian embassies, Spiegel said.
"It's certainly not any fault of the performers," Spiegel added. "They're artists and they don't understand the paperwork."