Deaf-Mute Detroit Immigrant Faces Deportation After 34 Years in The U.S.
DETROIT — September 11, 2018
The shocking strange story happened to an immigrant from Nigeria, Francis Anwana, who was just 14 years old when he came to the United States on a student visa.
Anwana was born in a small village in the area of Lagos, Nigeria, one of about eight or 10 children, said Diane Newman, an educator who has supported Anwana over the years.
"It was a very loving family," Newman said. "But they understood they would not be able to provide him a life in Nigeria ... as a handicapped person."
Since childhood he was deaf, couldn't talk, and had cognitive disabilities, enrolling at the Michigan School for the Deaf in Flint.
Now 48, Anwana lives in Detroit at an adult foster care facility, helping mow the lawns and mop the floors at a nearby church on Detroit's west side.
But a few days ago he was told the terrible news that he had to leave the United States. On Wednesday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told Anwana he would be deported on Tuesday, Sept. 11, according to advocates for Anwana.
Given his severe disabilities, it would be a virtual 'death sentence' for him, said Susan Reed, an attorney with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.
Because of his disability, Anwana can only read at a second-grade level and is unable to mentally grasp the fact he could be forced to go back to Nigeria, according to ICE advocates and his lawyer.
After the advocates raised concerns, ICE told them Friday that his deportation has been postponed. Anwana has a meeting with ICE set for Sept. 21.
"This removal is not imminent at this time," Khaalid Walls, spokesman for the Michigan and Ohio office of ICE, said Friday.
Several years ago, his visa was not renewed because he was often moved around from group homes and caretakers lost track of his case, said local advocates. They repeatedly tried to get him a path to citizenship but failed. He has no criminal record, advocates say. He is also not eligible for DACA because of his age.
After immigrating to the U.S., he was able to learn sign language and lived in Flint for most of his life before moving to Detroit in January to stay at a different group home.
"About a decade ago, someone tried to help him by applying for citizenship," said Reed, the immigration attorney helping him. "He was denied because he was ineligible, placed in deportation proceedings, and finally denied asylum which he sought based on conditions for people with his condition in Nigeria."
The incident also stunned longtime immigration advocates who say such an order failed to take into consideration Anwana's unusual circumstances of being disabled, and the fact he has lived in the U.S. for so long.
On Friday, he communicated to the Free Press by sign language through a translator, Sarah Shaw, who has known him for years. The two were students at the school for the deaf in Flint.
"I am happy" living in the U.S., he said. Shaw, who is helping Anwana navigate ICE check-ins, said he is unable to understand what deportation is and his immigration proceedings.
Anwana enjoys soccer and basketball and helping out with chores.
"He's been a model citizen," said Shaw.
Reed said that he "has lived in group homes and supportive environments for many years and won the love and friendship of many, but he has no family in the U.S. His elderly mother in Nigeria has no ability to support him or meet any of his medical needs. He needs medication to manage his conditions."
Fatou-Seydi Sarr, with the African Bureau for Immigration and Social Affairs, said in response for the case that "with his condition, life in Nigeria will be very, very bad, and can lead to death for not receiving proper medical care."
Another similar incident happened just a few days before this one. For 28 years, Banny Doumbia has lived in the U.S. after immigrating from the Ivory Coast on a visa.
Settling in Detroit, he opened two small businesses, a taxi service, and auto repair shop, and co-founded a mosque, Islamic Community of As-Salaam. Doumbia, 52, became known as a community leader in the city's growing west African community and is the father of four children, ages 10 to 23.
But according to U.S. immigration officials, he's now undocumented and has several federal felony convictions for theft and bank fraud. They say he's been due for removal for years and plan to deport him soon.
ICE also noted that Doumbia is living illegally in the U.S. and also has criminal convictions. According to federal court records, Doumbia was indicted on bank fraud in 1999 and pled guilty in 2001.
According to the view of the immigrant advocates, Doumbia's case is the latest example of the growing numbers of deportations of West African immigrants in Detroit. Advocates say the increase in removals is dividing families and hurting Detroit communities.
"His family has been struggling without him," said Fatou-Seydi Sarr, with the African Bureau for Immigration and Social Affairs, a Detroit group that helps African immigrants. "What is the point of removing him after almost 30 years in this country?"
In a statement, the spokesman for the Detroit office of ICE, Khaalid Walls, said: "On Aug. 3, Banny Doumbia was arrested by ICE as a convicted aggravated felon and unlawfully present citizen of the Ivory Coast. He is currently subject to an administrative removal order."
His detention prompted protests from immigrant advocates who say his sudden detention is another case of undocumented immigrants being targeted after years of being allowed to remain in the U.S.
On Wednesday, ICE took him to Detroit Metro Airport to be deported to the Ivory Coast, but he became non-compliant before boarding and so his removal was postponed, said a government official. Doumbia is currently in ICE custody pending deportation.