WOODBURY, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Woodbury restaurant owner that a community fought to save from deportation is back at home after spending six months in a detention center in Louisiana.
Shanqun Zhao first came to America from China 22 years ago. He and his wife Meizhu applied for green cards in New York. She was approved but he was denied because he was missing an essential piece of paperwork.
Zhao appealed the decision but never heard from the court again.
But last July, Zhao received a letter demanding he appear for an interview at a Nashville immigration office. That morning was the last time Zhao saw his children.
"He went to the interview and my mom was not allowed to go in with him," said Ling Zhao, Shanqun's daughter in August 2018. "He went in with a lawyer and after a few minutes the lawyer came out and said he’s been taken by ICE." Zhao was taken to the Davidson County jail, then moved to a detention facility in Alabama, then another in Louisiana.
After the Woodbury community found out about the situation they started a letter writing campaign, and city officials reached out to state and federal lawmakers for help.
It wasn't until January that Zhao was allowed back to Tennessee.
"We've missed him," said Woodbury Mayor Andrew Duggit. "I was surprised it worked because that's the way Woodbury is, we stand with one another."
For a politically conservative town, some expressed re-thinking their stance on strict immigration policies.
"I don’t feel the law was meant to do this at all – and I think anyone who can ignore the opportunity of someone from another country, but doing things legally and working hard, we’re ignoring our heritage," said Thea Prince, a Woodbury resident, in August. "I think it's where most of us come from – a heritage of making our life better for ourselves and our family."
"I voted for Trump and you do want bad people out of here," said another resident, Derek Masters. "But this is the ugly side of the law and it's hurt so many people."
His daughter tells NewsChannel 5 that after six months in a detention center, immigration officials did not consider Zhao a flight risk and released him, on the condition that Zhao checks in at a Nashville immigration office every month.
Shanqun Zhao continues to pursue a green card.