A month after being denied green cards to stay in the U.S., Canadian owners of Winter Park’s Eat More Produce are taking their immigration fight to federal court.
In a lawsuit – set to be filed by Orlando immigration lawyer David Stoller later this month – Troy and Katja Gage are suing the U.S. secretary of Homeland Security and the director of Citizen and Immigration Services on the grounds that their applications for citizenship were unlawfully denied Feb. 4.
“Why would they get you on this pathway and then deny you in the end? We’re going on the right path … It’s nonsense,” Eat More Produce owner Troy Gage said.
He and his family, who opened Eat More Produce on Orlando Avenue in Winter Park in 2010, have lived in the U.S. on visas requiring reapplication every two years. But, Gage said, with only one more renewal left on their L1A visas, and an ever-growing business, they applied in September of last year for green cards to continue the process to permanent citizenship.
“We just want it to be permanent so we can reap the rewards of our hard work one day down here,” Gage said. “We don’t want to be denied when we’re halfway through our mission of building a big business … There’s a lot of fear of the unknown when you don’t know if you get to stay or not. It just really holds you back.”
Always stifled by the unknown, Gage said he’s still been able to grow his business from zero employees to 20 since opening three years ago. The store become known in the community for its fresh weekly varieties of fruits and vegetables, deli sandwiches, cheeses and wine.
Eat More Produce is located at 1111 S. Orlando Ave. in Winter Park. To learn more about Troy Gage’s fight to keep his business open and stay in the states, visit the store’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/eatmoreproduce
“We’re a business selling a lot of produce and vegetables and healthy foods; who wouldn’t want that business in their country or their community?” Gage said.
Dreams of expansion were dancing in his head, the ink already dry on a lease for a second Eat More Produce location in downtown Orlando, when word came down that his green card had been denied, and that he could be forced to leave the country as early as March 2.
Stoller, the attorney filing the lawsuit to try to overrule the Gages’ denial, said the Gages were denied their green cards because the department of Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) didn’t believe Gage fulfilled the necessary “managerial” or “executive” qualifications in his business. Also citing that the 20 employees he has at Eat More Produce, are not of a “professional” caliber to fulfill CIS standards.
But, Stoller said, in order to meet the qualifications for the visa he’s held legally the past five years, Gage has already been deemed eligible to continue on his path toward citizenship.
“One side of the house says you met the legal standards while the other side doesn’t,” Stoller said. “It doesn’t make sense, if you meet the standard you meet the standard.”
Stoller said he’s tried nearly 200 cases similar to Gage’s, where immigrants were denied citizenship for inconsistent reasons. Once filed, he said CIS has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit – and then the Gages will likely have another four to six months of uncertainty as the case plays out either in or out of court. Until then, the Gages have filed for the last extension of their temporary work visa, which will allow them two more years of legal residency.
For now, Gage said, Eat More Produce will continue to expand with plans full speed ahead, as he remains optimistic that the process will work out in his favor, with immigration services admitting its mistake in his denial. To back him up, in a month he’s gathered more than 1,500 signatures on a Change.org petition to help save Eat More Produce, and thousands more from community members on paper stacked high in the store.
“We’re sick of being in limbo here,” Gage said. “We want to know whether we’re going to be able to stay or not because we’re done working 80 hours a week and investing time and money and all our efforts into growing this business if, you know…”
“I think that’s why the community has gotten so behind us, yeah, they like our business, but they recognize what’s happening is just wrong. To be kicking out businesses like that, with no real, actual reason, especially in this economy. It’s wrong on so many levels.”