BALTIMORE - When a family fled communist Estonia 20 years ago, they sought freedom in Baltimore by seeking political asylum through proper immigration channels. Decades later, one member of the family faces a threat of deportation.
Piret Tuisk, 48, holds on to the company of good friends as she faces possible deportation.
"Baltimore is my home," Tuisk said. "I don't have any other homes anymore."
When she and her family arrived in Maryland, Estonia was then part of the Soviet Union. After arriving in 1991 with only $200, the Tuisks filed for political asylum in the U.S., writing on their application, "In Estonia, we live in fear." They said political demonstrations against the Soviets had the family investigated by the KGB.
"It wasn't a great place to live. I was looking for a better future," Tuisk said.
In Baltimore, the Tuisks' daughter went to public school and ultimately graduated from college at Stevenson University. Tuisk bought a home, paid taxes and went on to become a licensed massage therapist.
Every year, she has applied for and received a work permit from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, all the while waiting for word about her application for political asylum.
Much changed for the family as time passed. The marriage ended and Tuisk's husband remarried with an American citizen, leaving Tuisk to wonder about her immigration status.
The answer came 17 years after she filed for political asylum. The family first filed for asylum in 1991, but it wasn't until January 2008 when a USCIS representative first interviewed the family.
Later that month, the family received a notice that stated, "USCIS has not granted your claim for asylum."
Even though the Tuisks had been "persecuted in the past" in Estonia, because the country had changed, the letter stated, "there is not a reasonable possibility you would suffer persecution if you were to return."
In other words, because Estonia is no longer under communist control, it is safe to go back, 11 News I-Team reporter Deborah Weiner said.
"I don't want to leave," Tuisk said.
The decision surprised Tuisk's friends.
"This is the land of liberty and justice. It is so unjust what is happening to her," said Deborah Barranger, a friend.