U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will allow a deaf, cognitively-disabled Detroit man to “make arrangements to depart the U.S. voluntarily,” the agency said Wednesday.
Francis Anwana faced an initial deportation deadline Tuesday. But ICE backed off that deadline after pushback from Anwana’s advocates and at least one member of Congress.
U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) introduced what’s known as a private bill to protect Anwana from deportation Wednesday. Such private bills give Congress authority to grant permanent legal U.S. residency to specific individuals.
Anwana has been living in Michigan since he was a teenager. In 1983, family members with ties to the Lutheran Church brought him to Michigan on a student visa to attend church-sponsored schools for the deaf. ICE says he’s been in the country illegally since that student visa expired.
Throughout his time in the U.S., Anwana’s supporters have attempted to gain him asylum or some form of legal status, but all of those efforts were shot down. In 2008, a judge ordered Anwana removed from the country, but he was instead placed under an order of supervision because ICE was unable to obtain the proper paperwork from Nigeria.
Susan Reed, an attorney with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, says Anwana has complied with all ICE orders during that time. It was understood that he was being given humanitarian consideration and “there was no expectation he would actually be deported” until last week, she said.
Reed says ICE apparently expects Anwana, who currently lives in a Detroit group home and volunteers at a local church, to find acceptable living arrangements in Nigeria and then leave the U.S. But between his lack of resources, his multiple disabilities, and the support network he’s built up in Michigan over the past 30 years, that’s an “untenable expectation.”
“Clearly from ICE’s statements, it is still their position that they intend for him to depart the United States. And that is just not possible for him,” Reed said.
Reed says if Anwana is forced to return to Nigeria, he will not only be uprooted “socially and spiritually,” he will likely be unable to communicate with anyone or find a way to support himself in a country he hasn’t seen since he was a child.
“The immigration law is incredibly harsh and incredibly limited, and unfortunately provides very little consideration for anyone who has even as many issues as Francis has,” Reed said.
Anwana’s last hope may therefore lie with Kildee’s bill. Kildee met with Detroit ICE officials about Anwana’s case last week, and urged the agency to use its “discretion to consider Anwana’s unique case.”
“Francis was brought here as a child and America is the only country he knows. Despite being deaf, Francis continues to volunteer in the community and be an active member in his church. It would be wrong to deport Francis to Nigeria, where he has no family, means to communicate or ability to take care of himself. I will continue to fight on Francis’ behalf and I urge the Trump Administration to use its discretion on this case to allow him to remain in the United States,” Kildee said Wednesday.
Anwana's father who brought him to the U.S. is now dead, and he doesn't have any close family remaining in Nigeria, Kildee said. Given his disabilities and the fact that he can't communicate except in American Sign Language, deporting him would be tantamount to "a death sentence."
“There’s no benefit, there’s no value other than destroying this one young man’s life, that would come from him being deported," Kildee added.
Private immigration bills are usually reserved for people in rare, exceptional circumstances. Kildee thinks that Anwana fits into that category and he should be offered relief on "humanitarian grounds." But he admits that getting the bill through both houses of Congresses and onto President Trump's desk will be a heavy lift.
“I think, to be honest, we have a big hill to climb in getting this done," Kildee said. "We’re just going to do everything we can to get it done.”
ICE refused comment Wednesday on any details of its plans for Anwana, including any potential deadline for self-deportation, saying that “for operational security reasons, we don’t discuss specific removal arrangements prior to an individual’s successful repatriation.”
*Update: This post was updated on 9/12/2018 at 6:45 p.m. with additional comments from U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee .
*Correction: This story was corrected to reflect that Francis Anwana was first brought to the U.S. in 1983, not 1987.