In early October, Praq Rado was on his way to the Hamptons International Film Festival in East Hampton for the East Coast premiere of the film based on his immigration struggles when he was taken into custody for having illegally entering the country over a decade ago.
Rado spent the next 10 days in a federal detention center awaiting a deportation hearing. "I thought I was going to lose everything," Rado said by phone on Wednesday from Los Angeles.
An Albanian-born actor, his contacts in the film industry feverishly worked to help him, and though he was granted a stay and released from custody while he awaits his case to be reheard in court, Rado's fate is far from secure.
"It's like being in jail, really. You're out, but you're not out," Rado said, describing the "stressful" situation he faces every day. He is scared.
At 31, he's built a modeling and acting career in America since he escaped from Albania, without papers, 11 years ago. Rado has been spreading the word about his new film, in which he plays himself, in "Dreaming American," a 24-minute short narrative that tells the story of his immigration journey.
Rado is seeking asylum in the United States, which was granted to his brother on the grounds of religious and political persecution a number of years ago. Rado had already been working with an immigration attorney in New York City to have his case reheard when he was arrested in Buffalo, but was in "legal limbo," according to one of his biggest supporters, Lee Percy, an award-winning editor, who wrote and directed "Dreaming American."
"That's why the arrest became, in some way, an inciting incident," to have the case re-opened, Percy said.
"Albania was the most closed society in the world," Percy explained. Rado's family — apart of a small enclave of Catholics in the majority-Muslim country — fought against the communists. Though the country is now a democracy, seeking membership to the European Union, Percy said many of the same people are in power.
Rado has also gained notoriety in his native country, "ironically, because the film depicts him dancing in a gay bar and having gay friends," Percy said. "There is kind of this entrenched systematic homophobia in Albania society."
After Rado's arrest, Customs and Border Protection Agent Michael Scioli said that Rado — whose given name is Preke Radoina — first illegally entered the country in Detroit in 2001. By 2007, immigration officials issued an order to remove him, he said. He was never deported.
In custody in October, Rado thought his deportation as imminent and almost lost all hope had it not been for the support he received. By phone, Percy read him comments on the news stories written about his situation. "In a way, [it] gave me faith and strength to just get up and be productive while I was in there. While I was in there, I started writing my story and started reading a lot," he said.
Rado was touched by those he met there — many of whom were young, hardworking students also waiting deportation, mostly of Latino descent, he said. They were all in a big room together with two officers watching over them 24-7. "They have stories, they have family. They're trying to become somebody," he said. He felt "hopeless," he said, leaving them behind.
With his next court appearance scheduled for March 15, 2013, Rado is keeping busy with work. He was in Los Angeles with Percy this week to work on a feature film.
In the meantime, he is working on revamping the website for "Dreaming American" so that there is a place for other undocumented immigrants to tell their stories. The new site should be up in two to three weeks, he said.
His hope is to someday start an organization that can help immigrants who came to this country illegally navigate the court system. But for now, he is just hoping that he is granted asylum and can continue to make films in the country he now calls home.