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Hunger Strike Pays Off; Visa OKd

Times Staff Writer

A Westminster couple’s four-day hunger strike in front of a federal immigration office came to a happy ending Thursday afternoon when top immigration officials said the woman’s ailing mother will be allowed to emigrate from Romania to the United States after all.

“God Bless these men for helping this poor woman get here,” the sunburned and unshaven Vasile Sofroni said at the end of his 80-hour fast in Westminster to win an entry visa for his mother-in-law, Livia Groza, 54.

“My legs are shaking. I don’t know if it’s from lack of food or from happiness,” he said outside the INS office in Westminster.

Harold Ezell, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service’s western regional commissioner, told Sofroni and his wife, Lia, both 31, that acting INS Commissioner James Buck had personally reviewed Groza’s case Thursday morning in Washington. Ezell said Buck decided that Groza did qualify for a special humanitarian visa.

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Ezell said the visa means that Groza, who has a serious heart condition and hasn’t been able to work for five years, can now legally come to the United States and stay indefinitely. He explained that the government, on rare occasions, grants special visas for humanitarian reasons, to aliens who otherwise cannot legally enter the United States with a regular immigrant visa.

“Today’s decision is in line with our policy to promote family unity by offering special consideration. . . . This family should be together here in the United States,” Ezell said Thursday.

The Sofronis launched their fast in the INS parking lot at 5 a.m. Monday after three years of efforts, including assistance from Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), failed to win entry for Groza.

Vasile Sofroni said he had become increasingly concerned about his mother-in-law’s welfare when money he sent failed to reach her in Dimisoara, Romania.

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The INS originally denied Groza’s petition for a humanitarian visa in early May, saying that she was still young enough to support herself and therefore did not have to be with her closest living relatives, the Sofronis, who have permanent U.S. residency status, the couple said.

Ezell said that Groza’s case, which was being handled by the INS office in Washington, came to his attention when he saw a local TV news broadcast Wednesday night about the couple’s hunger strike.

Ezell said that both he and Dornan called acting INS Commissioner Buck early Thursday and asked him to personally examine the request.

Buck interceded, overruling other INS officials to whom the Sofronis had been appealing for various entry visas for about three years. Ezell said the INS already has sent a cable to the U.S. Embassy in Romania, advising officials there that a visa has been approved.

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“This is a belated Fourth of July gift to the Sofronis. We talked to Mr. Buck and explained that the State Department had already given the OK,” said Patricia Fanelli, a Dornan aide. She said the congressman has been working on Groza’s case since last year.

Sofroni said Thursday that he and his wife were driven to fasting because Dornan’s office “promised all this time, and they keep trying, but nothing changed. (We got) the same answers,” and because Groza was not getting the money they were sending to Romania.

“ ‘I don’t know what you are doing, Vasile, but I see nothing from you,’ ” he said his mother-in-law told him in a telephone conversation in April.

That is when Sofroni said he decided to act. “I said no more waiting. . . . If I don’t help her, she is going to die because nobody else there to help her.”

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INS officials emphasized that without valid grounds for granting a humanitarian visa request, the hunger strike would have done no good.

“The hunger strike was not the reason parole status was granted. . . . There was a lot of hard evidence to support their claim in the second review,” INS spokesman Ron Rogers said.


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