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Local restaurateur denied asylum; frightened family awaits appeal

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    Sherry Zheng, with daughter Kaylin, 2, speaks with a person in the office of U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) from her Holland, Ohio, home Thursday. Her husband, Wei Zheng, has been held by U.S. Immigration in a jail near Cleveland and is facing deportation to China because he lied to a judge in 1995 about his entry in to the United States.

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    Wei Zheng.

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Sherry Zheng, with daughter Kaylin, 2, speaks with a person in the office of U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) from her Holland, Ohio, home Thursday. Her husband, Wei Zheng, has been held by U.S. Immigration in a jail near Cleveland and is facing deportation to China because he lied to a judge in 1995 about his entry in to the United States.

The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
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Anxiety and fear have consumed Sherry Zheng's life since federal immigration agents took her husband away six weeks ago.

Wei Zheng, the owner of a West Toledo restaurant, who entered the United States more than 20 years ago when he was 17, is locked up in a suburban Cleveland jail.

Mr. Zheng, 37, the father of three young children, could be deported to China, a country he left when he was a boy.

"I am really scared that my husband could be sent out of the country any day," a tearful Mrs. Zheng said. "Right now I just want my husband back, for him to come home, and try to keep this family together."

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents took Mr. Zheng into custody Sept. 1 at his Springfield Township home after a federal immigration judge denied him asylum.

Attorneys representing Mr. Zheng have appealed to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and have asked that he be released from jail and be allowed to stay in the country until a decision can be reached.

Mrs. Zheng said she is frightened each time the phone rings.

"I am afraid to answer the phone," she said. "It could be good news or it could be very bad news."

Mrs. Zheng, 35, who is a naturalized citizen, came to the United States in 1997.

wei-zheng-deportation

Wei Zheng.

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The couple, who have been married since 2005, have three children.

The couple's restaurant, Wei Wei Noodles on North Reynolds Road near Dorr Street, closed after Mr. Zheng was taken into custody, ending the family's only source of income and putting its four employees out of work.

According to a letter that Mr. Zheng wrote in jail, in 2007 he asked the federal immigration court in New York, where he had a prior deportation case, to grant him special status because he is married to a U.S. citizen.

However, the case was transferred the next year to the federal immigration court in Cleveland.

Mr. Zheng said in his letter that false statements he made in the 1990s about his "asylum claim, date, and method of entry" in applying for the Chinese student protection program contributed to the immigration judge's denial for asylum in March, 2009.

"I know I made the mistake of lying to the immigration court in New York. I am deeply sorry for what I have done. I was 17 years old when I came to the U.S. After over 20 years, I am a father of three. I know how to take responsibility. I know how to do the right thing. And I just want to be with and take care of my family," Mr. Zheng wrote.

Mr. Zheng said he and his mother and brother left China when he was 8 years old and moved to Hong Kong, then immigrated to New York City in 1991 when he was 17.

He said his mother still lives in New York and has been battling stomach cancer since 2005.

"The mistake he made was 18 years ago. He has been a good husband, a good daddy, and even though he is not a U.S. citizen, he has been a very good citizen in this community," Mrs. Zheng said.

Even though the restaurant is closed, Mrs. Zheng said she still must pay the rent, utilities, and insurance on the restaurant as well as take care of the family's other bills and pay the mortgage on their home.

After immigration Judge D.W. Evans rejected Mr. Zheng's request to remain in this country, his attorneys appealed to the U.S. Board of Immigration, which upheld the decision in May.

Mr. Zheng's Cleveland-based lawyer, Scott Bratton, said he hopes he can reverse the immigration decision out of the federal court in Cleveland.

"The first step is trying to obtain a stay that would get him out of jail and prevent his deportation, and ultimately win at the federal appellate court level," said Mr. Bratton, who represented President Obama's aunt, Zeituni Onyango, in her quest to get asylum in 2010.

Mrs. Zheng said her daughters, who are 10 months and 2 years old, are too young to understand what is going on, but her 5-year-old son constantly asks when his father is coming home. "He is very, very close with his daddy. He misses him very much," she said.

Mrs. Zheng said she takes her children with her weekly to the jail in Bedford Heights, Ohio.

She said her husband has lost 10 pounds during the six weeks he has been there, but he cherishes the time that he can spend with his family.

"He smiles to us and he tries to make us feel better," she said.

Robert Cohen, an immigration lawyer in Columbus, said cases such as the one involving Mr. Zheng pose dire consequences to families and harm communities economically.

"What will we accomplish by sending him back to China and destroying his family?" Mr. Cohen asked.

He said that deporting Mr. Zheng not only would break up a family but could cause them to lose their home to foreclosure, take away their means of support, and permanently put the restaurant out of business, creating unemployment.

"The landlord doesn't collect rent and may not be able to find another tenant to fill that space. The money that the family spends to buy groceries and everything else will be gone. All of the sudden economic activity gets decreased. What does this do to our economy? It really doesn't make a lot of sense to me," Mr. Cohen said.

Contact Mark Reiter at: markreiter@theblade.com or 419-724-6199.

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