By the time Alex Timofeev got home from work at the Nakoma Country Club, had dinner and relaxed with his customary cup of tea, it was past midnight. When the doorbell rang in the early morning he tried to ignore it. But the ringing was insistent so he left his fiancée in bed, threw on some boxer shorts and went to the front door.
Timofeev says he found an “unassuming lady” who identified herself as an official with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, or ICE. At first he hoped it was about his petition for permanent residency, which he says has been in the works for years. “I thought, finally, some questions are going to be answered.”
But the officer propped open the door, and a second officer, who had been standing by his van, ran over. Both followed Timofeev up the stairs to his second-floor apartment near Warner Park on Madison’s north side.
The officers told Timofeev they had a warrant for his arrest but would not answer any questions. One walked around the apartment, checking all the rooms. Timofeev tried to text his boss at the country club, where he works as a chef, to say he wouldn’t be in that day, but was told he couldn’t make any calls.
“They would not let him brush his teeth, they would not let him go to the bathroom or put on his pants without supervision,” recalls fiancée Elizabeth Vale-Schesch of that morning in late September.
Timofeev, 35, was taken in handcuffs to the Milwaukee office of ICE, where officials told him he had “abandoned” his citizenship petition and was going to be deported because of marijuana possession convictions in Dane County dating back to 1996. He was allowed one call and was then taken to Dodge County Detention Facility in Juneau.
Born in the former Soviet Union, Timofeev was 14 when he moved with his family to Madison in 1992. By the time he was 19, he had been convicted three times in Dane County of possessing marijuana. He pleaded no contest each time.
Timofeev’s immigration attorney, Milwaukee-based Davorin Odrcic, filed a motion in Dane County Circuit Court on Dec. 17, 2012, asking for his client’s pleas from the 1990s to be vacated. Odrcic argued that Timofeev had not been apprised by his attorneys at the time that such pleas could result in his deportation.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Ellen Berz issued a written decision on Jan. 24 siding with Timofeev, and he was released from ICE custody after spending more than four months in detention. But the state Department of Justice, at the request of the Dane County District Attorney’s Office, appealed the circuit court’s decision. So Timofeev is once again facing removal from the country.
Before the hearing on the motion, friends, family and coworkers sent letters to Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, attesting that Timofeev’s days of using drugs were long over. The letters laud his hard work, talent as a chef, friendship and, above all, the way he dotes on his two daughters, Sasha, 16 and Kylie, 7.
“He may not have full custody, but he is an active, vital and important part of their lives,” wrote his best friend, Zachariah Olson, who has known Timofeev since both were 14. “Alex pays child support. Alex pays for clothes and toys. Alex provides shelter and food to his oldest daughter, Sasha…. These are just monetary things, there are important emotional and social aspects to fathering a child as well. Who is going to pick up that slack if Alex is deported?… Do we really expect [his children] to cope positively with such a loss?”
In the meantime, Timofeev’s life is on hold. He can’t work and therefore has no income. Along with other bills, his child support payments are now accruing with interest. That is particularly painful to Timofeev, who takes his obligations to his children seriously. He no longer even owns a car to save money.
“I never minded paying child support,” he says. “I never tried to get it lowered. I was paid up to the penny.”
Timofeev has not been back to Russia and has no relatives left there. His daughters, fiancée, parents and friends are all here.
“I have nothing there,” he says.
Moreover, any deportation would be final.
“If they send me away I can never come back. Not in five years, not in 10. Never.”
Timofeev, of course, is not alone. Last year the Department of Homeland Security removed more than 400,000 individuals classified as “aliens” from the United States. More than half of these were “convicted criminals,” a catch-all category that includes nonviolent offenders like Timofeev as well as murderers.