Many rally to prevent Russian emigres deportation

Efforts are in high gear to help a Russian Jewish emigre remain in the country with her husband and toddler son, even though she’s been ordered to leave by the end of the month.

While she has until Friday, Feb. 27, Yana Slobodova, 30, is scheduled to leave the United States with her father on Monday, Feb. 23. But efforts on her behalf to sway the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services are continuing at an urgent pace.

With a $5,000 grant from the Hebrew Free Loan Association, Slobodova and her husband, Alexander Makarchuk, have been able to retain the services of an expert immigration attorney, Marc Van Der Hout of Van Der Hout, Brigagliano & Nightingale.

“Even though this falls out of our normal range of activity, we felt it was a situation of utmost need,” said Ed Cushman, HFLA’s executive director. Cushman added that although it is considered a loan, the organization doesn’t expect Slobodova to be able to pay it back, and he hopes that community members will step forward.

The Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal is also collecting funds for the couple’s legal defense. Since last week, BACJRR has organized a letter-writing campaign and is working together with Van Der Hout on the case.

Pnina Levermore, executive director of the BACJRR, said the rising tide of nationalism and anti-Semitism in Russia means that Slobodova, who chose to leave her native country, faces great danger if she returns.

“If ever there were a rallying cry for our community to stand up in support of a member of our own Jewish community who has gotten caught in this black hole of homeland security, it’s now,” Levermore said.

BACJRR has since fielded many phone calls and offers of help, and information about the case is on its Web site, bacjrr.org. A letter can be downloaded to be sent to the BCIS on Slobodova’s behalf.

As a result of the Jan. 30 article in j., another immigration attorney has offered her help pro bono. Van Der Hout said he hopes he can reverse the government bureau’s decision, in light of the fact that it runs contrary to family reunification laws.

“There is nothing to be gained by tearing apart a young family like this, forcing a 20-month child to be torn away from its mother,” he said.

Slobodova was in jail for almost three weeks because the BCIS determined she had entered the United States with false papers. She was released on condition that she leaves the country in 30 days, and not take her case to a higher court.

The emigre piano teacher is married to a naturalized U.S. citizen, and they have a 20-month-old son. Her parents, who live in San Mateo, have refugee status and are eligible for citizenship soon.

The Community School for Arts and Music in Mountain View, where Slobodova taught piano for four years, is also mobilizing its students, who are writing letters on their teacher’s behalf.

Van Der Hout is now trying to get a meeting with David Still, the regional director of the BCIS. At that meeting, which is not scheduled yet, he and Levermore will present a packet of letters, as well as testify why Slobodova should not be separated from her family.

“David Still is a reasonable person,” said Van Der Hout. “I think if a compassionate person looked at this, we’re hopeful that he’ll reconsider the decision, which we think was wrong and serves no natural interest whatsoever.”

Meanwhile, while the family remains hopeful, they are making arrangements for Slobodova’s departure. They are giving up their San Francisco apartment, and Makarchuk and their son will move in with Slobodova’s parents. They are also trying to sell their piano.

Makarchuk described their mindset as “crazy,” saying that “now it feels like she has to leave and that’s how it is.”

Slobodova’s father said friends in St. Petersburg have offered them a vacant apartment until Slobodova finds her own place, but that’s little consolation for Makarchuk.

Sounding completely worn out, he said, “Little by little, we’re trying to stop the process of deportation. If Yana can stay here, that’s the main thing.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."