The president of Augsburg University on Thursday joined supporters who fear that a professor is being targeted for imminent deportation despite his many years as a higher-education instructor and crime-free life in the United States.
Kenya native Mzenga Aggrey Wanyama and his wife, Mary, have been ordered to meet Friday in the Twin Cities with officials of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to review their case and discuss “plans for removal” from the United States, fellow Augsburg Prof. Sarah Combellick-Bidney said.
For years, ICE has required Wanyama, 60, to comply with “stringent guidelines including regular visits to the ICE headquarters in St. Paul every one to three months,” said Combellick-Bidney, who teaches law and other topics at Augsburg. “Dr. Wanyama has not missed a single visit. But this most recent demand comes outside of that schedule and signals a shift in priority of his case, putting him at risk for detention and deportation.”
A spokesman in the Twin Cities declined to comment or reveal any specifics about ICE’s handling of this case.
“I am hoping for the best, while preparing for the worst,” Wanyama said Thursday afternoon. “Tomorrow [Friday] is a very important day. It could be nothing, or it might be something else.”
Supporters are planning to gather on behalf of Wanyama at ICE’s local headquarters in St. Paul at noon Friday.
“Dr. Wanyama is a role model for the professional aspirations and accomplishments of future leaders in our city and country,” said Paul Pribbenow, president of the private liberal arts university in Minneapolis. “We strongly stand behind him and believe he should be able to stay in the United States.”
Wanyama said he is resigned to deportation, should it come to that. “Well, what can I do? ... If they want me to buy my own ticket, I will do that.”
Asylum bid denied
Wanyama came to the United States in 1992 seeking political asylum. Two sons, now 31 and 26, arrived three years later and are protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that prevents many young immigrants from deportation. A third son, a 19-year-old attending the University of Minnesota, was born in the United States and is a U.S. citizen.
In immigration proceedings years ago, Wanyama testified that he feared persecution if he returned to Kenya “primarily on account of an article he wrote in 2004 criticizing the government of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and praising his Orange Democratic Movement opponent Raila Odinga,” read an appeal he filed in federal court in 2012. The article appeared in the East African Standard, a widely read Kenyan daily newspaper, the appeal noted.
However, Wanyama said Thursday, “The judge wasn’t convinced. I have no more appeals, and my attorney said it was hopeless.”
Combellick-Bidney said Wanyama’s case had been treated as a low priority by ICE, in part because he is a full-time professor at Augsburg teaching writing and literature, and he has no criminal record.
The Wanyamas’ case, like many others in the United States, has gained a sense of urgency in the wake of the Trump administration’s pledges to tighten border security and step up efforts to deport those who are in the country illegally.
However, while the latest statistics from ICE show an increase under Trump in arrests of immigrants, in particular those without criminal convictions, deportations are not keeping up with the pace that the Obama administration had set.
ICE reported a 30 percent increase in the number of undocumented immigrants arrested by the agency in fiscal 2017 compared to the previous year. As for deportations, ICE said there were 6 percent fewer in fiscal 2017 vs. 2016 and in any year during Obama’s two terms.
Meg Novak, a Minnesota-based advocate for families of immigrants, said Thursday that it is “an outrage for ICE to remove our community members from their homes, disrupt their lives and rip apart families.”
Wanyama was born and raised in Kenya, received undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Nairobi and then taught English language and literature for about eight years. He came to the United States in 1992 for graduate studies at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and then moved to the Twin Cities and earned a doctorate at the University of Minnesota.
From 2002-05, he was an assistant English professor at St. Cloud State University before joining Augsburg, where he teaches postcolonial theory and literature and African-American literary history.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482