Denver Post, CO
Dec 10 2004

Immigration agency frees Armenian family

By Nancy Lofholm
Denver Post Staff Writer


An Armenian family that has been held in an immigration detention
center in Denver for nearly five weeks was unexpectedly released
Thursday, setting off a wave of joy that quickly spread through a
small Western Slope community that has fought for their freedom.

"I'm shaking. It happened so fast. It's incredible. I feel like I'm
in a dream," said Gevorg Sargsyan, moments after he, his sister Meri,
brother Hayk and father Ruben walked out of the Immigration and
Customs Enforcement Center where they had been held since Nov. 4.

The four members of the Sargsyan family were taken into custody while
their attorney was waging a legal battle to obtain visas for them
based on their contention they were victims of a con man who
trafficked in fraudulent visas. That battle will continue now that
the Sargsyans are free from detention.

The family has lived and worked in Ridgway for more than six years.
When they were taken into custody, Hayk was a senior honor student at
Ridgway High School. Gevorg was on the dean's list at the University
of Colorado, where he was studying chemical engineering. Meri was
well known for playing piano in local churches. And Ruben, a
space-optics scientist in Armenia, had been working multiple jobs to
provide for his family.

His wife, Susan, and their daughter Nvart, who both work in Ouray and
Ridgway, were not taken into custody because their immigration cases
were being heard separately.

Since realizing last summer the Sargsyans were in danger of being
deported, Ouray County residents have raised more than $30,000 for
their legal defense, wrote hundreds of letters and e-mails, and
pressured officials from regional immigration officials to President
Bush to take another look at the case and allow the family to stay.

"We are very glad ICE made this decision," said Pete Whiskeman, a
Ridgway businessman who has helped lead the effort to free the
Sargsyans.

Carl Rusnok, a Dallas-based spokesman for the immigration division,
said the Sargsyans were released on orders from Washington on
Thursday.

"They were released because they are not a threat to national
security and not a flight risk," Rusnok said. "Frankly, we can use
the detention space for more dangerous criminals."