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A family's voyage to freedom

Unlike complex schemes such as the Polish Pipeline or dramatic efforts, like diving off a ship, the case of Andrew and Barbara Pieniazek and their two young sons may be more typical of how Poles enter the United States. Andrew was a Polish seaman and a member of Poland's Solidarity Union. Barbara worked as a dental technician and acted as a representative of Solidarity at her clinic. The couple and their two young sons lived with Mrs. Pieniazek's parents in a two-room apartment in Szczecin in a northwest corner of Poland.

Once a year Polish seamen are allowed to take their families aboard a vessel for a voyage abroad. This is what the Pieniazeks did. When they arrived in port at New Orleans in December, they walked off the ship and headed for the local immigration office to apply for asylum.

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Through an intepreter, Barbara Pieniazek says, ``We knew nothing,'' when asked how much her family knew about gaining asylum in America. She did, however, know to ask for the INS because ``everyone in Poland knows this.''

The family was then assisted by Associated Catholic Charities of New Orleans and other people who supplied food, shelter, furnishings, and the first month's rent on an apartment. The couple was given work permits and within two days they were granted political asylum.

Mrs. Pieniazek says her husband was receiving foreign books and other literature, which is forbidden in Poland.

``After martial law in Poland people were taken one by one over a period of time and arrested. That's why they're leaving just a few at a time, not all together,'' Mrs. Pieniazek says, referring to other people the couple knew who also left on voyages to defect.

``If you don't have official permission, you cannot leave. There's no way, no way to get out without police knowing.

``In Poland it was impossible to live anymore . . . they can make you suffer from restrictions, you can't get a good job, you can't buy things. You wait two years for a telephone. You have to earn things by being nice and being good politically. You earn the privilege. Everything is a privilege. This is constructed to make people think about only first needs and no time to think about politics.''

Until now, she says, nothing has happened to her parents, who stayed behind. But she says she expects that they will be questioned. Andrew is now employed as a cabinetmaker; Barbara works nights at a hotel restaurant. Both are learning to speak English and are adjusting to life in their new homeland.

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