Amid a public outcry, U.S. immigration authorities are standing firm in their decision to deport Francis Anwana, a deaf immigrant in Detroit from Nigeria who has lived in the United States for over 30 years.
U.S Immigration says he has been living in the country illegally.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that it will allow the 48-year-old man to leave on his own instead of being deported immediately. His original departure date was to be Tuesday, after being told last week he was being deported.
“In an exercise of discretion, the immigration is allowing Mr. Anwana to make arrangements to depart the U.S. voluntarily,” Khaalid Walls, spokesman for the Michigan and Ohio office of ICE, said.
Walls said: “Mr. Anwana, a citizen of Nigeria illegally residing in the U.S., was admitted to the United States in 1987 as an F-1 nonimmigrant student, but violated the terms of his admission by remaining in the U.S. when he was no longer enrolled in school, which made him subject to removal.”
In 2008, an immigration judge with the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review ordered Anwana to be removed from the U.S. In 2009, ICE placed him on an order of supervision because, at the time, the agency was unable to obtain a travel document from his home country.
Last week, Anwana was told that he had to leave the U.S. on Sept. 11, shocking his supporters.
As the Free Press reported Saturday, Anwana is deaf, can’t speak and has cognitive disabilities that make it difficult for him to understand what is happening, say his friends and advocates. He wouldn’t be able to survive in Nigeria, they said.
Raised in Nigeria, Anwana came to the U.S. to study at a school for the deaf in Michigan. He now lives at an adult foster care center on Detroit’s west side, where he volunteers to help mow lawns and mop the floors at a nearby church.
His visa expired as he was moved around to different homes and facilities and the directors of his school who knew him moved away, say his supporters.
“Over the time, Francis’ visa lapsed when he was no longer a student and just nobody ever took care of it,” said his advocate Diane Newman, an educator. “And the guardianship of him kind of fell away. No one really took ownership.”
She and others are worried about his future.
“It’s clear that Francis remains at risk for deportation even though he was not deported today,” said his attorney, Susan Reed, with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC). “MIRC will continue to make every effort to advocate for Francis’ safety and well-being.”
ICE said in its statement that Anwana was admitted to the U.S. in 1987 as an F-1 nonimmigrant student.
Reed said that “Francis first came to the U.S. in 1983 with his father at age 13. It’s not clear from the record what type of visa he had at that time. It’s possible that his F-1 visa was issued later and that that’s the date that ICE is focusing on.”
Anwana’s case has drawn support in recent days from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which represents 31 members of Congress, UndocuBlack Network, which supports undocumented African immigrants, deaf advocates, and David Leopold, a prominent immigration attorney with DHS Watch and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus said of Anwana: “Trump’s cruel & anti-immigrant policies are targeting vulnerable immigrants like this young man who has lived in the US for 34 yrs, is deaf & requires special medical care but is now facing deportation to Nigeria.”
Expressing concern about his removal, Leopold urged people to tell ICE to “call it off. Enough is enough.”
After arriving in the U.S., Anwana attended the Lutheran School of the Deaf and later the Michigan School of the Deaf, where he graduated, said Newman. Anwana reads at a second-grade level and has trouble understanding his immigration issues.
In 2006, an attorney filed for asylum for Anwana, but he was denied.
Newman and Reed said Anwana would suffer if he had to go back to Nigeria. Being deaf, disabled, and unfamiliar with Nigeria after more than 30 years would disorient him.
It would be a virtual “death sentence,” Reed said.
He has no criminal record, Newman said.
Anwana communicated briefly with the Free Press on Friday through a sign language interpreter.
He said he was happy to live in Detroit and talked about helping out at a nearby church.