Not much has changed for Sokol Vokshi since the Herald interviewed him last month. It’s been nearly four months since the Elmont dad and Rockville Centre waiter was abruptly deported during his regular meeting with immigration officials in April, but to Vokshi, it still feels like yesterday.
“I was talking to my kids the other day, and I couldn’t believe it’s been more than three months since I’ve seen them,” Vokshi said. “My kids miss me. Children need their father.”
Like so many immigrants in the past year, Vokshi’s meeting with immigration officials to renew his working visa was interrupted by agents who handcuffed him, sent him to a holding facility in New Jersey and put him on a flight to his native Albania — all within the span of three days. Vokshi wasn’t even allowed to call his family until he landed in Albania, a country he initially fled in 1991.
But as Vokshi waits to hear about his advance parole application — his only chance to make a legal and speedy return to the U.S. — he still needs to focus on paying the bills to help his wife and two daughters, a 14-year-old and a 12-year-old who has autism. But no matter where he looks, it seems no one in his native country wants to lend him a hand.
“There’s no job here for a 47-year-old waiter,” Vokshi said. “The mentality here is to hire young blood. No one’s looking to hire a man like me.”
But it’s different back on Long Island. At the Golden Reef Diner — where Vokshi was known as Sal and had worked for the past 24 years — coworkers, friends and regulars have rallied behind him, donating thousands to a GoFundMe account aptly named “Get Sal back to the USA.” Warren Prosky, a regular and friend of Voskhi, started the initiative with his daughter, after he heard about what happened to his favorite waiter.
“This is a terrible situation,” Prosky said. “He’s not the guy you want to throw out of your country. He’s living through the American nightmare.”
Jimmy Trahanas, the owner of the Golden Reef Diner, said what happened to Vokshi was devastating. He put up a flyer detailing Vokshi’s situation at the front door of the diner and advertised the GoFundMe page. When the Herald last spoke to Prosky and Trahanas, the joint effort had raised slightly more than $10,000. Now, they have raised more than $19,000 — just a few hundred shy of the $20,000 goal.
“Sal was the most lovable person in the diner,” Trahanas said. “We’ve gotten a lot of letters of support coming in for him.”
When Vokshi saw the renewed wave of support coming in from the U.S., he was overwhelmed. He couldn’t believe people were giving so much and felt a little guilty that he wasn’t able to recognize some of their names.
“I don’t have enough time in the world to thank them for their support,” Vokshi said. “Especially Warren, who helped organize everything.”
But after Vokshi finished reminiscing about his usual Sunday mornings with Prosky at the diner, the sadness returned to his voice when he started talking about his family. While his daughters try to enjoy their summer, Vokshi said his wife is feeling overwhelmed, because she has been raising them alone. Her own meeting with immigration officials is scheduled for August. Like Vokshi, she too risks being deported. If that happens, their American-born children will either be separated from them, or sent to Albania, a country they have never seen.
“I tell them not to give their mom a hard time, and they always ask, ‘Daddy, when are you coming back,’” Vokshi said. “All I can say is, I don’t know.”