Reprieve Given Polish Woman, Daughter Facing Deportation

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Times Staff Writer

As far as Maria Sokulska knew, 1984 would be her last year in America.

The 42-year-old Polish woman who fled with her daughter to Costa Mesa in 1981 faced deportation Dec. 31 after her request for political asylum was refused.

But immigration officials told The Times that Sokulska and 103 Polish nationals living in Orange and Los Angeles counties will be allowed to stay another six months.

“We have a Dec. 21 wire from our Washington office that we will be granting an extension to June 30, 1985, for Polish nationals,” said Beverly Wilson, a supervisor in the deportation office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Los Angeles. “This lady and her child fall within this category and will be granted an extension.”


The reprieve, which affects some 6,000 Poles in the United States, is one of several issued since martial law was declared in Poland in 1981, INS spokesman Duke Austin said Wednesday.

Austin said the State Department recommended the reprieve, citing U.S. foreign policy objectives and similar actions taken by other NATO countries.

The new ruling affects Poles who entered the United States before July 21, 1984--primarily students, businessmen and those who remained here after their visas expired.

Sitting in the sunny kitchen of her two-bedroom Costa Mesa apartment, Sokulska said, “This is a very good message on my last day. I am happy. Very.”

Life on the installment plan is not new to Sokulska.

Last June, U.S. authorities told her that her request for political asylum had been denied. She and her daughter, Dorothy, were ordered to return to Poland on July 13. But by the time July 13 rolled around, the date had been changed to Dec. 31.

“I need stabilization,” Sokulska said, looking questioningly at her 9-year-old daughter, hoping her grammar was correct.


Dorothy, who has been enrolled in Orange County schools for the last three years, speaks fluent English and often translates for her mother.

“I’m happy here because I can speak, I can think, I can do everything,” said Sokulska, who is an active participant in POMOST, a political-social organization of Polish refugees and immigrants who speak against the country’s Communist regime. “In my country, I can’t think about my political opinions.”

Sokulska said her husband, Henryk, remained in Poland and was active in Poland’s now-banned Solidarity movement. She has not heard from him in more than a year.

“To go back to my country would be very dangerous,” she said. “There are pictures of me in demonstrations here, I have been on TV . . . . I would be persecuted.”

Sokulska, who works as a full-time housekeeper for a family in Corona del Mar, describes her apartment as “a little Poland.” A sign on her refrigerator reads “Polish kitchen,” an 8-by-10 photograph of Solidarity leader Lech Walesa hangs on the living room wall and several Polish books, and memorabilia are scattered throughout the house.

“I am very happy here,” she said. “I love California climate, the stores, my boss . . . everything! But I would like freedom for my country and every country.”


Her precarious situation is not on her mind constantly, she said, “but sometimes I have bad dreams . . . I am running away from people . . . .”

With the help of an attorney, Jaak Treiman of Canoga Park, and Ban Coalition, which tries to prevent the State Department from deporting Eastern Bloc defectors who face persecution, Sokulska has requested a new hearing before an immigration judge.

“The extension does not solve her problem, nor most of the others in her situation,” said David Balsiger, director of Ban Coalition. “But it gives us time to prepare a stronger case.”

Balsiger said they will argue that because of her anti-communist activity, at worst her life would be endangered if she returned to Poland and at best she would bear a social stigma and could never get a good job.

For Dorothy, the news of the reprieve meant “I’ll be here for my birthday” on June 25.

Her mother took a longer view:

“This is a small part for me. I need an extension for all time.”

Times staff writer Melita Garza contributed to this story.