A Canajoharie restaurateur and Albanian immigrant arrested in January on drug charges from 16 years ago remains incarcerated in a New Jersey jail on an unrelated immigration matter. Meanwhile, his loved ones await word of his fate and work to keep the business afloat.
Eno Hysa, 38, was picked up by Montgomery County sheriff deputies Jan. 5 when it was revealed he fled New Jersey in 2001 after pleading guilty to drug charges. He’s been on the lam since 2001, and has built a family and business in Canajoharie -- Gino’s Restaurant -- in the intervening years.
Family and friends dismiss the drug charges as a youthful indiscretion, and say Hysa is a family man with strong ties to the community who should be allowed to return home.
But although his drug charges in New Jersey have been resolved with two years of probation, his arrest caught the attention of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency, which placed a detainer on Hysa’s case because of his foreign status.
ICE spokesman Alvin Phillips in February said that Hysa, who is Albanian, overstayed his visa when he came to the United States an unknown number of years ago.
The Hudson County Correctional Facility in New Jersey confirmed Wednesday that Hysa is still an inmate at the jail, and is being held there on an ICE detainer.
According to the agency’s website, ICE places detainers on “aliens who have been arrested on local criminal charges and for whom ICE possesses probable cause to believe that they are removable from the United States.” The detainers exist “so that ICE can take custody of the alien when he or she is released from local custody.”
ICE spokesman Luis Martinez said Wednesday that the agency doesn’t discuss the disposition of immigration cases without a signed privacy waiver. Asked if Hysa may be deported, Martinez said, “due to security concerns we do not discuss removals until after the fact.”
The Executive Office of Immigration Review within the Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment about Hysa’s case.
Meanwhile, Hysa’s loved ones continue to run Gino’s Restaurant in his absence and wait for an immigration hearing to determine what happens next.
“Right now things are just all on a standstill, it’s waiting day after waiting day until something happens,” said James Schnettler, who makes pizza at Gino’s.
Schnettler, the son of Hysa's longtime partner, said he doesn’t believe that Hysa will ultimately be deported.
“I don’t think so because he’s been good for so long, which is what the last judge said,” Schnettler said, referring to the New Jersey judge that handled the drug charges. According to the prosecutor’s office in Hudson County, NJ, the statute of limitations did not apply in Hysa’s case as he had already pleaded guilty to the drug charges.
Hysa’s longtime partner, Marcia Jacque, is running Gino’s in his absence.
“She definitely could be better,” said Schnettler of Jacque. “We definitely need him home, that’s for sure.”
There’s a spaghetti and meatball dinner fundraiser at Gino’s scheduled for May 21. Funds raised from the event will go to help pay for Hysa’s immigration lawyer and costs incurred by loved ones in his absence. There’s also a FundedJustice.com campaign set up to assist the family.
Schnettler said Hysa is a good man who made a mistake a long time ago and just wants to come home.
“I would not be fighting for a man that’s raised me for the last 16 years if he wasn’t worth it,” said Schnettler. “If I knew this man was some type of [criminal] I would not fight for this man. But I’m a hundred percent behind him.”
Schnettler said Hysa is in good spirits despite his circumstances, and is helping other inmates with their cases.
“He’s an optimist, you’ve got to know him to understand him,” said Schnettler. “He definitely sees the bright side of things.”
Schnettler said the silver lining for Hysa is that the drug charges he’s been running from for 16 years are finally resolved. “It’s a weight off his shoulders,” said Schnetttler. “Finally getting this process done and over with and being able to come home to us soon.”
Schnettler said Hysa is “more than ready” to come home.
“He’s definitely looking forward to seeing his daughter, that's the one thing that’s on his mind the most,” said Schnettler. “He’s got a six-year-old daughter turning seven in June, so he’s hoping he can be back before then.”