FREMONT — Russian-born Tatiana Miroshnik came to Fremont 13 years ago with her then-3-year-old son to marry a California man she had met in her homeland. But the couple divorced after Miroshnik caught her husband writing to other women and it became clear he was not interested in being a father to her son, she said.
As the marriage dissolved, so too did Miroshnik's chances of gaining permanent residency in the United States.
On Wednesday, one week after she was arrested and released by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers for overstaying her time in America, Miroshnik and about 60 people from her church rallied outside the headquarters of Solyndra, hoping to catch the attention of President Barack Obama, who was touring the Fremont solar plant.
Friends of the family hope the government will pardon Miroshnik and her son, Eugene Kotelnikov, who have received orders to return to Russia by June 18. If deported, Miroshnik would have to leave behind her U.S.-born daughters, Tatiana Martinez, 10, and Nastasia Martinez, 8. The daughters are from Miroshnik's second marriage, which also ended in divorce.
According to government orders, Miroshnik said, the earliest she could apply to re-enter the United States would be in 10 years.
In addition to ripping apart the family, a deportation would mean throwing Eugene, now 16, back into a world where the language and culture is unfamiliar and where, in two years, he would be forced into the Russian Army.
"I feel like an American. They want to deport me to Russia, which is foreign to me," said Eugene, whose favorite bands include Guns N' Roses, Aerosmith and Journey.
An honors student at Fremont's Washington High School, Eugene volunteers regularly at a retirement home and ran track and field for his school this past season.
"We're not a liability to society," he said about his family. "We're not breaking any laws. We pay our taxes."
Bruce Green, a pastor at Centerville Presbyterian Church who has collected more than 270 signatures from church members in support of Miroshnik, said her story is a prime example of how U.S. immigration policies are flawed.
"She is someone who shows a great deal of initiative and responsibility and behaves like a good citizen, even if she's not an official citizen," he said. "She's never taken any public assistance. She's not hiding anything. She's worked within the system. I think the system is broken."
"Where's the criminal act here? Where's the offense? Where's the sense this person wouldn't be a blessing to our community? She came here legally but overstayed her stay in the process of appealing" her case, Green said.
Miroshnik said her first husband never told her when she was to appear in court when she was applying for a green card. That failure to appear in court hindered her chances of obtaining permanent residency, a process further hindered after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"My court date was postponed and postponed and postponed," she said.
After Miroshnik's second divorce left her as a single mom, she launched her own music company, giving private piano and violin lessons.
"All this time, I was able to support myself. I built up my business. I was never on welfare. I was able to pay my bills, pay for my car, pay for my apartment," Miroshnik said from her Centerville apartment, where she walks around with a GPS ankle bracelet.
In addition to playing the violin at Centerville Presbyterian Church each Sunday, Miroshnik also has performed with the Fremont Symphony Players and Ohlone Chamber Orchestra and volunteered her time to promote music in schools, particularly at Vallejo Mill Elementary, where her daughters attend.
Miroshnik has kept the news about the possible deportation from her daughters, hoping someone will intervene on her and her son's behalf before mid-June. So far, appeals to elected officials for help have not been fruitful.
The family's pastor called it a "travesty" to tear apart a family.
"It's just immoral," Green said. "We have to take a stand. We're not done with this."
To learn more about Miroshnik's situation, join the Facebook group "Help Stop Cruel Deportation," or call Centerville Presbyterian Church at 510-793-3575. Contact Linh Tat at 510-353-7010. Follow her at Twitter.com/Linh_Tat.