Augsburg University Professor Mzenga Wanyama and his wife, Mary Namalwa Mzenga, were given a 90-day deadline to either show a path to legalization or leave the country after meeting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on April 5.
A group of around 100 supporters met Wanyama and his wife when they arrived for their check-in, including Augsburg President Paul Pribbenow and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. Frey spoke to the crowd and voiced their opposition to the possibility of Wanyama being deported.
In a written statement released on Thursday, Pribbenow said, “We are disappointed and sad that ICE has failed to exercise its prosecutorial discretion to stay Dr. Wanyama’s and his wife’s removal from the United States.”
Wanyama spoke to the MSR after meeting with ICE and said the meeting didn’t go as well as he wanted. “We did not expect them to give us a deadline,” he said. “The last time we had been there, they had been more lackadaisical.”
Despite being in the throes of a deportation threat, Wanyama remains hopeful. He explained that ICE can win in two ways — by deporting him and by discouraging him. “We are not going to allow them to make us feel defeated,” he said.
The outcry of community support has touched Wanyama. “It has made a difference, it may not be obvious but it has,” he said. He added that his situation has rallied the community and has given visibility to other people whose stories are not being told.
Governor Mark Dayton wrote a letter to ICE last Wednesday stating that it would be a loss for the community if Wanyama were to be removed from the country. Wanyama said he found the sentiment particularly moving. “If the Governor of Minnesota wants me in his state that should be enough for me to stay,” Wanyama contended.
Wanyama said he fears that if he and his wife are removed, there could be a negative impact on the community, beyond just the loss of a professor and nurse. “If you get the type of community support we have got, and you still can’t prevent this from occurring, it has to make you feel very hopeless,” he said. “I don’t think it’s really good for the whole community to begin feeling hopeless about their ability to influence affairs and things like this.”
In 1992, Wanyama and his wife moved to the United States with their two young children and in 1998 had another child in Minneapolis.
The two children Wanyama moved here with were granted protection from deportation under an Obama-era provision that protects early childhood arrivals, commonly known as DACA.
While his two children are protected now, Wanyama is concerned about what could happen if the program is not extended. “There is no doubt that we are anxious about their situation as well. We don’t know what’s going to happen or how it is going to affect them,” he said.
Wanyama entered the United States with a visa requiring that he return to Kenya for two years before coming back to the states. He applied for asylum in 2005 in fear of persecution for articles he had written about the Kenyan president at the time. It wasn’t until 2012 that a federal appeals court denied his case.
Over the next three months, Wanyama and his lawyers will be exploring other legal options to stop the deportation. His lawyers will try to reopen his asylum case under a provision called Changed Country Conditions.
Last year, Wanyama made public that his mother was murdered in his hometown and that he believed it could have been politically motivated. He said it is up to his attorneys to figure out how to use that information. But he noted, “I have no idea if that will resonate with [ICE] or if they will ignore it. They might want more evidence to justify me staying.”
The message that Wanyama said he is getting from ICE is that the agency knows it may be dangerous for him to return to Kenya; however, he hasn’t done enough to prove the danger. “Maybe they even want that proof to come in the form of [my] death,” he said.
While Wanyama did not completely see his situation coming, he said because of the change in the White House, he was not totally surprised.
“We have a new administration in power, and we know that it is very different from the last administration in terms of the attitude towards immigrants,” Wanyama said.
“The fact is, our situation was never a priority but now it is,” Wanyama stated. “There is a lot of power in a particular office and that power is being deployed vehemently,” he added.
Wanyama said he wonders why the federal government is spending so much time and resources on removing someone with no criminal record and who is a contributing member of society.
“[ICE] cannot tell us what they are going to gain from removing us, but they keep on insisting on it,” he said. “You can tell there is another aspect of it that has very little to do with the law they claim we violated.”
This type of situation is not unique to Wanyama. He said he hopes his situation can bring light to the fact that what is going on in our country is not consistent with its pledges for human rights.
Immigrants come to the United States for an opportunity to better their lives, Wanyama said. He maintained that is what he has been trying to do since he got here. “They have praised this element in other people when they have shown it,” he said. However, in his case, he asserted that ICE is trying to criminalize it.
“Ultimately, my situation is a manifestation of a bigger problem that needs to be addressed,” he said.