Demetry Furman meant it only as a joke.

The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles called to tell him to show up at the Medina office on Aug. 1 to pick up the paperwork for his new truck. During an earlier visit to an agency location in Columbus, where he bought the vehicle, his name had been flagged in the system and his papers kept.

Furman, 47, a former Canadian military officer who served in Afghanistan and lived quietly in Copley Township, turned to his wife, Cindy, and kidded that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents would be waiting for him.

He was right.

Demetry was arrested on the spot, jailed for more than two months and deported to Canada two weeks ago as part of the country's zero-tolerance immigration policy.

Demetry, at the age of 21, had been convicted of a marijuana trafficking charge in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Although he was pardoned for the crime in 2002 by the Parole Board of Canada, went on to serve in the Canadian military alongside U.S. soldiers and has lived a quiet, law-abiding life here for years, he was considered an aggravated drug felon by U.S. immigration officials and expelled from the country.

The Furmans, torn apart by the deportation, now are crying foul over what happened and how he was treated, especially because they say he had been following the advice of immigration officials as he sought his green card, which would allow him to live and work permanently in the United States.

“I believe in law and order,” he said in a telephone interview from Windsor, Ontario, Canada, where he is now staying. “I believe rules exist for a reason. I believe that 100 percent. … I tried to do everything by the book and then the book smacked me upside the head.”

Cindy Furman, 50, who remains at home in Copley and served as a noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force, said the deportation has taken its toll on both of them. She relies heavily on her husband because of poor health and tries not to drive. She described losing 13 pounds, getting hives, having nightmares and watching her hair fall out.

The Furmans initially kept quiet about the arrest while he was in the Geauga County Jail and then the Seneca County Jail before being dropped off at the border. Cindy said they were told by immigration officials making their story public could hurt his immigration case. But with him now in Canada, there's nothing to lose by sharing their story, she said.

"As much as I missed my husband [when he was first arrested] and it hurt me not to have him here, it hurt me more that the country that I signed on the dotted line to give my life for and that my husband signed on the dotted line to give his life for turned its back on us," Cindy said. "That hurt me to my core. I was just in shock that we followed all of the rules. He came here legally. He did what immigration told him to do. Immigration told him not to leave the country until his case was done. We spent over $15,000 on attorneys to have paperwork done only to have him end up in jail and back in Canada."

ICE responds

Demetry is one of hundreds of thousands of people who have been deported in recent years. ICE reported that 226,119 people were removed from the country in the federal fiscal year from October 2016 to October 2017, a slight decrease from the previous year.

The Furmans said they aren't interested in taking sides in the ongoing political debate over immigration and they don't want to be labeled as anti-President Donald Trump. They just want to be reunited in the United States.

It's unclear whether the federal government considered Demetry's pardon by Canadian officials. Immigration proceedings are administrative and handled through the U.S. Department of Justice. A spokeswoman declined to release basic details about the case without a reporter first providing Demetry's alien registration number.

The Furmans declined to release the number to the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com for security reasons.

ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls declined in an email to “discuss any past criminal convictions for privacy reasons.”

But he said another factor in the deportation was Demetry pleading guilty to a federal offense of trying to illegally enter the United States in March 2013. He was caught hiding in Cindy's trunk at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo and immediately was returned to Canada.

At the time, according to an affidavit from a border officer, Cindy admitted that she knew Demetry, who was then her boyfriend, wasn't permitted in the country because of the drug conviction.

The Furmans and their attorney Frank Krajenke of the Herman Legal Group in Cleveland said the 2013 incident never came up during his deportation proceedings after his arrest and they were surprised to learn that ICE is now citing it as a factor.

Krajenke praised Demetry for being a "pillar in the community," specifically citing his willingness to help others and his military service.

"It's just unfortunate that the rigid application of the law leads to a deportation of a quality person that has been and would be and would continue to be a benefit to our community," the attorney said.

Cindy said in a recent interview that she was losing her home to foreclosure in 2013 and was in the process of leasing a new home. But the owner wanted to meet Demetry face-to-face, they said, and that led to him hiding in the trunk. He had applied for his green card in 2012 and they had hoped that his application would have been approved by then, but it wasn't.

"We regret it to this day," Cindy said about trying to sneak Demetry into the country.

Despite that 2013 incident, Demetry was permitted into the United States three separate times later in 2013 and 2014, according to stamps in his passport. The couple say he was here to see Cindy after she was diagnosed with cancer and was being treated.

He remained in the country after he returned in April 2014 upon the advice of immigration officials as he continued to seek his green card, the Furmans said.

They married in September 2014 and settled into a quiet life raising farm animals and tending to their garden. Cindy said they also devoted time to charitable efforts such as sending care packages to troops overseas and placing flags at gravesites of veterans.

Demetry receives a military pension, while Cindy is on disability.

"We're in bed early and up early," Cindy said. "Our friends say we're boring."

How treated

Cindy had accompanied her husband to the BMV office in Medina on the day he was arrested. She stayed outside in the vehicle, though, because one of her legs was in a cast.

She had no idea what was taking place inside.

The ICE agents escorted Demetry from the building, making sure that he couldn't make any contact with Cindy. He was put in a sport utility vehicle and driven away. After a short drive, he was moved to another SUV and taken to an ICE interrogation facility in Brooklyn Heights.

Meanwhile, agents delivered the keys to the Jeep and Demetry's pocket knife to Cindy. They told her nothing.

"I had no idea where he was or what he did," she said.

Cindy was left sitting in the parking lot.

Demetry, who speaks four languages and is trained in martial arts, spent more than two months in jail. He was denied bond and shocked to be housed with criminals.

He was born in Russia and spent his early years living in a tent along a river in Siberia before emigrating to Canada at age 8. Those conditions were rough. But he bristled more about his time in jail, saying at first it aggravated his post-traumatic stress disorder.

He recalled the simple joy of having a beam of sunlight hit his face while he was in jail.

"You know life is good when you can appreciate a sunbeam, right?" he asked.

When he was finally released at the border in Windsor, he said the ICE agent shook his hand and wished him good luck.

The conviction

Demetry said the long-ago drug trafficking charge that led to his deportation was a misunderstanding.

He said he provided a ride for "a friend of friend" who sold a small amount of marijuana to an undercover officer. That friend later blamed him.

He said he was young and scared and agreed to pay an $80 fine to make it go away. But the judge also sentenced him to four months in jail — something that wasn't part of his plea agreement, he said.

He worked 28 days at an equestrian ranch as part of his sentence before being released early.

In July 2002, the Canadian National Parole Board pardoned him. Demetry went on to work as a private investigator in Canada, then joined the Canadian Army Reserve and signed up for active duty in 2007. After serving in Afghanistan, he settled into a civil affairs position.

He first met Cindy while training in the United States. They reconnected years later as part of an online support group, after Demetry had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Demetry first applied for a green card in 2012, but his application hasn't been approved. He said "the system is so convoluted" that there were paperwork mistakes made along the way.

In one case, the Furmans said, an application was denied because officials misread his income level. In another case, they said, immigration officials reported not receiving a necessary document that the Furmans had provided.

Demetry still has an open application with the National Visa Center and will continue to file paperwork seeking permission to enter the country. He has no idea how long that process might take.

Friends have set up a GoFundMe account (https://www.gofundme.com/Canadian-vet-demetry-furman) seeking $15,000 to pay for legal bills. The account had $3,460 in pledges as of Friday morning.

What's next

Cindy said she doesn't want to move to Canada, considering she has four grown children living in the United States and the Furmans' friends are here. But she will if he's not permitted back into the country.

"We just want to live a quiet life on our land with our garden and animals and be law-abiding citizens," she said.

Demetry is determined to return to the U.S. legally.

"Having lived in both places, I prefer the United States," he said. "People say to me, 'What's the difference?' There is a difference. I compare it to a high school football game and the Super Bowl. That's the difference.

"I love Canada," he added. "I love my wife more.

"I finally have something in my life that I've always wanted: Roots, family and a house and a wife who loves me above all and I can't have it. That's the one thing that hurts the most."

 

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.