BOSTON, Mass. (WJAR) — A Block Island resident who was arrested and detained for overstaying his student visa is being allowed to return to the island.
Immigration Judge Mario Sturla cited the community’s “overwhelming support” moments before ordering that Meriton Gurguri, 29, be released on $2,500 bail.
During Tuesday’s bail hearing, Sturla said Gurguri does not pose a danger to the public.
Gurguri’s attorney, David Borts, presented the judge with a petition signed by 560 people on Block Island who requested that Gurguri be released and allowed to return to Block Island.
Borts also submitted a resolution signed by the New Shoreham Town Council in support of Gurguri, as well as a letter of support from House Minority Whip Blake Filippi, a Republican who represents Block Island.
“It is the rare case that we walk into in this court with a resolution from the town council, letters from state officials, notarized statements from more than half of the community. Block Island's an unusual and special place. It's a village and everybody knows him,” Borts said.
Gurguri’s boss, Mary Jane Balser, made the trip from Block Island to Boston to attend the hearing at the John F. Kennedy Federal Building.
“He means everything to me,” Balser told NBC 10 News. “He’s more than an employee. He’s a foster child. He’s part of my family. I can’t tell you how happy I am.”
Immigration agents picked up Gurguri on Feb. 27 while he was working as the store manager at Block Island Grocery. The Kosovo native was arrested for overstaying his J-1 student visa.
During the hearing, Gurguri spoke via video camera from the Bristol County House of Correction. He told the court he first came to Block Island the summer of 2010 and returned the following summer. He’s been living on Block Island ever since.
Borts said it wasn’t difficult to make a case for why Gurguri, who has no criminal record, should be allowed to return to Block Island.
“His reputation has been earned well over the past seven years and people stood up for him today,” Borts told NBC 10.
Inside the federal building, the prosecution argued that Gurguri was a flight risk and revealed that he provided a false address in order to get a driver’s license in the state of Washington. Balser told NBC 10 that Gurguri obtained a license so he could drive for work.
“He knows that I won’t let anyone drive without a license and we have so many trucks. So, he went to Washington, which is a state that’s a sanctuary type state that allows him to have a license. He came home beaming that he had a license” Balser said.
Borts plans to file for political asylum for Gurguri, whose parents have told Balser that it is unsafe for him to return to Kosovo.
“I’ve interviewed Meriton for a while about some issues of things that took place that he witnessed in Kosovo, which not far back was a horrible, horrible place to be -- a civil war where the residents of Kosovo were very much persecuted for their religion and ethnicity and he’s seen some horrible stuff,” Borts said.
Gurguri is due back in court on April 3.