The Polish immigrant was deported in 2007, but made a triumphant return.
It was a family reunion four years in the making.
Tony Wasilewski welcomed his wife Janina and their son, Brian, back to Chicago Monday with a joyous celebration at O'Hare Airport.
Janina arrived in the United States in 1989 seeking political asylum from communist Poland. But even after getting married, having a son and living in a home near O'Hare, she was deported in 2007 after failing in her 18-year attempt to become a U.S. citizen.
She was barred from returning to the U.S. for 10 years, and took her 6-year-old U.S.-born son back to Poland, leaving her husband behind.
It was a heartbreaking separation that drew director Ruth Leitman to create the documentary, "Tony & Janina’s American Wedding." The feature-length film, part of the fall's Chicago International Film Festival, "gets to the heart of the broken, red tape ridden U.S. immigration system," according to the director.
It helped. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services reconsidered Wasilewski’s case in mid-June 2011, and the department issued a rare waiver that allowed her to return as legal resident aliens.
"Thank you for all the people who wrote for us," Janina said from the airport. "I'm very happy that I can spend time with my husband and my son in here, in USA."
"Today I feel like the luckiest man alive," said Tony Wasilewski, who has become an activist for immigration reform. "With my head and my heart I'm proud to say that I'm an American citizen."
The film reached out to Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who helped draw awareness to the family's story.
"Today we have made the law respect your marriage and the bonds you share with each other, and never let the government come in the way and break another family such as yours again," Gutierrez said.