In an ironic twist of fate, an actor on his way to the Hamptons International Film Festival to see a film about his immigration journey was picked up by federal immigration officials.
Customs and Border Protection agents took Praq Rado, a 31-year-old Albanian-born actor who has lived in America for 11 years without documentation, into custody on Thursday while he was on board an Amtrak train in Buffalo, the agency confirmed on Sunday afternoon.
"Dreaming American," a short narrative based on Rado's life, makes its East Coast premiere during the film festival at the East Hampton movie theater on Monday at 8 p.m. He was due to speak at the festival headquarters at c/o the Maidstone on Sunday afternoon.
Lee Percy, who wrote and directed "Dreaming American," confirmed Rado was traveling to East Hampton for the screening.
Rado is the lead actor in the 24-minute film that tells the story of his immigration journey, including how he escaped from Albania, without papers. He was thrown overboard from a ship off the Italian coast and made his way to shore.
"Family opposition to the prevailing regime had sharply curtailed his access to education or any sort of meaningful future. Even his personal safety was in jeopardy; his father's death is still shrouded in mystery and political intrigue," Percy said in a statement, adding that Rado dreamed of "living without fear of sectarian or political violence."
In America, he struggled to survive and find work without a Social Security number, taking jobs as a go-go dancer at a gay bar in the East Village, Percy said by phone on Sunday. He ended up becoming a successful model and transitioned to acting.
Percy, an award-winning editor who worked on "Salt," which stars Angelina Jolie, met Rado at an industry party. Rado was working at as a caterer and pitched his life story as a film. Barbet Schroeder produced the film.
"I thought it was moving," Percy said of his story. "People always have an image of illegal immigration," he said. "He's a very determined, very hardworking, very good long fellow. Let's take this one face ... and perhaps give people a different attitude when they think of immigration."
Lead Border Patrol Agent Michael Scioli said that Rado — whose given name is Preke Radoina — first illegally entered the country in Detroit in 2001. By 2007, immigration officials issued an order to remove him, he said.
According to Percy, Rado was never deported.
Rado, who has been working in Los Angeles but lives in New York, has not left the country since arriving, even though both of his parents died back in Albania, Percy said. He has to travel by train to avoid Homeland Security at airports, but was determined to come to East Hampton to see his film.
"I tried to warn him off, but he was excited about this festival," Percy said.
While Scioli did not detail how authorities found out Rado was on the train, he said it is common for them to board a train and ask for documentation.
After Customs and Border Protection have completed paperwork in Buffalo, Rado will be sent to a federal detention center to await a deportation hearing, Scioli said.
"If he is sent back to Albania, not only will he be separated from his loved ones forever but his now public persona may further endanger his life," Percy said. "Albania may have officially proclaimed support for freedom of ideas, but the everyday possibility of persecution and death remains very common and very real."
His attorneys are fighting his deportation, asking that his petition to re-open his case can be heard. "Praq Rado’s dreaming American may all be for nothing," he said.