ROCKVILLE CENTRE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A respected and beloved waiter who has served the same diner customers on Long Island for 20 years was recently deported.

Now they’re trying to bring him back to Long Island, and are raising money to help his family.

Diner patrons in Rockville Centre are rallying around their long time waiter. Sokol Vokshi, known as Sal, is gone. They are all stunned that he’s been deported back to his native Albania.

CBS2 spoke to Vokshi in his sister’s kitchen.

“In 1994 I applied for political asylum,” explained Vokshi. “In 1997 it was denied and my immigration judge ordered voluntary departure to go back to the country I came from.”

He didn’t return because he says lawyers he hired told him to stay put and appeal.

He bought a house in Elmont, paying $12,000 a year in real estate taxes. Vokshi is married, has two daughters, and has never committed a crime. He registered with the federal government and was given a social security number.

“A waiter in Golden Reef Diner working 65 to 70 hours a week to provide for my family,” said Vokshi.

The waiter was sent a letter by ICE to appear at federal plaza by April 3. He thought it was a routine meeting about his appeal, but says he was handcuffed and put on a plane back to Albania, where he now has just one living relative.

“We all understand that there needs to be rules, but here’s a guy who wanted to live the American dream,” said diner patron Warren Prosky. “He worked six days a week at this diner. He paid his taxes he was a solid citizen.”

Prosky and other customers started a GoFundMe campaign to help defray legal costs and hundreds of diner patrons are helping.

“Never in a million years would I guess so many people and friends would be supporting me,” said Vokshi.

Patron Jerry Ebstein has kept a memory of Vokshi working in the dinner with him for a while.

“Once I left my wallet on the table with a couple of hundred dollars and he ran outside stopped me from driving away and returned my wallet!” said Ebstein.

Vokshi is especially worried about his daughters, aged 14 and 12. The younger, he says, has autism, making matters worse for an American dream that’s turned into a living nightmare.