Immigration Case Comes to Happy Conclusion
In 1991, Djordjevic came to the US as a graduate student in physics at the Michigan State University. He only intended to stay half a year, but when war broke out in Yugoslavia, he decided it would be unsafe to return, so he applied for asylum status. After completing his PhD in 1996, Djordjevic took a job as a software engineer with a small company, and then accepted a position as a software specialist with Verizon. Djordjevic and his wife, whom he had met in Yugoslavia, and their two children, both American citizens, moved to Falls Church, Virginia.
In 2002 he was granted an approval notice for an H1-B visa, but his attorneys at the time didn’t follow through on the procedure for him to receive the visa. His lawyer also failed to notify him when his petition for asylum was denied, causing him to miss the deadline to appeal or leave the country.
It came as a surprise when he was arrested for an immigration violation in July 2003. He was sent to jail, deemed a flight risk, and held without bail. During the nightmarish 146 days he spent in jail, he suffered many indignities and was depressed by the lengthy legal proceedings, and was especially distressed that he was unable to be with his children.
The physics community tried to support him as much as possible during that ordeal. Djordjevic’s former PhD advisor at Michigan State, Michael Thorpe, alerted APS to his case. Professor Ronald Cappelletti and other friends and supporters set up a website and collected contributions to Djordjevic’s defense fund. APS President Myriam Sarachik wrote a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge asking him to support Djordjevic’s release, and the APS Committee on the International Freedom of Scientists wrote letters to the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Irving Lerch, then APS Director of International Affairs, sent letters to various officials and attended a hearing in the Virginia Eastern District Court. Edward Gerjuoy, chair of CIFS, was also active in trying to help Djordjevic.
Although APS did not get any useful response to those letters, Djordjevic says he was extremely grateful for support from APS and the physics community. “It meant much more than I can describe. I did not feel alone,” he said.
Djordjevic was finally released on bond in December 2003. His immigration status was still uncertain as legal proceedings dragged on.
Several months after being released from jail, Djordjevic was able to return to work at Verizon. In August 2006 he became a consultant for Geico, doing computer programming.
In November 2006, the government agreed to terminate the case against him. There was no new evidence at that time, said Djordjevic. “I’m not sure what was the cause of the government’s change of mind.” His case simply seemed to dissolve into nothing, he said.
Djordjevic was then able to apply for a green card through the regular immigration system. The application process went smoothly, and in December 2007, he and his wife were approved for green cards.
Djordjevic believes that the support he had from APS and others, including Congressman Tom Davis (R-VA), may have ultimately influenced both the government’s decision to drop the case, and the approval of his green card. “All this help came together,” Djordjevic said. “I believe the APS help made a huge impact on them in the long run,” he said. “This is also an APS victory.”
See Djordjevic's letter of thanks to the science community.
©1995 - 2013, AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY
APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.
Contributing Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff
Art Director and Special Publications Manager: Kerry G. Johnson
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik