A Serbian Orthodox priest in Nashville is trying to stop the deportation of himself and his family that is happening because his lawyer allegedly failed to update his green card application on time.
Father Aleksandar Vujkovic is the parish priest of the St. Petka Serbian Orthodox Church in the Germantown-Salemtown community of Nashville. He and his wife and their three young children — born in America — are facing deportation by Aug. 16.
The family will leave for Serbia unless President Donald Trump intervenes, Robert Blagojevich, president of the church’s board of directors, told The Tennessee Star. The priest’s supporters from around the United States are engaging in a campaign to draw the president’s attention.
Vujkovic is a law-abiding person and will not hide illegally, Blagojevich said. In Serbia, he will reapply to return to America.
Following the law is important to the St. Petka congregation, Blagojevich said. The church was formed in the early 2000s by members of the Serbian Orthodox Church, mainly Serbian and Bosnian refugees from that nation’s war. They also have Russian members who are here legally, as well as Greeks and American converts. Many also are second-generation Americans whose parents emigrated to the United States after World War II.
The process is frustrating given the number of illegal aliens who are allowed to stay, Blagojevich said.
“All the people in our church are proud to be American,” Blagojevich said. “They legally followed the process and got citizenship. We are proud voters and have similar Christian values.”
Vujkovic is the church’s first full-time priest, having taken the post in 2014. He helped the congregation renovate the former black Baptist church which is nearly a century old and turn it into a traditional Orthodox church.
His supporters have tried for months to help the priest, Blagojevich said. He contacted U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn’s and Lamar Alexander’s offices as well as U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper’s. They all returned the calls and said there is little they can do as they cannot interfere with the immigration process. However, Blackburn’s office has kept the parish up to date.
They have supporters in many places, including Illinois where Blagojevich grew up. Saint Basil of Ostrog Serbian Orthodox Church in Illinois posted a letter on Facebook that is circulating asking people to write to the president. The letter is available here.
Vujkovic came to America in 2009 to attend an Orthodox seminary in Illinois and in 2013 married his wife, Tamara, according to the letter. He was assigned to the Nashville parish and had a U.S. religious worker’s visa. The couple had three children.
The couple had applied for green cards while the religious worker’s visa was valid, the letter said. Their attorney forgot to submit a re-application, the letter said, and the worker’s visa expired.
Father Aleksandar was legally in the United States because he and his wife were in the process for a green card, but during that process Father found out that he was not legal to work because his religious worker visa expired and therefore did not have work authorization for a period of time because his immigration attorney had forgotten to reapply for the religious worker visa and include it with the green card application. The attorney said that it was his oversight and tried to correct his error to no avail. During this gap time, caused exclusively by the attorney’s oversight, Father Aleksandar did not have authorization to work. During all his years working in the US, Father Aleksandar never failed to pay taxes. The attorney applied for a retroactive R1 visa to try to fix that gap but the USCIS denied application for green card on February 17, 2020 based on that gap of time without an active religious workers visa.
The attorney was remorseful and tried to help but did not succeed, Blagojevich said. A couple of other immigration attorneys were contacted but said they could not help.
Serbia is experiencing turmoil over COVID-19 shutdowns and its parliament was stormed by protesters, Blagojevich said.
If Vujkovic does leave, the church has found a priest to serve for several months until a long-term replacement can be found, Blagojevich said. But they would miss their priest, and they are suffering financially and emotionally from the virus shutdowns.
“It is affecting the morale of our church,” he said.
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