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MY STORY: Meet US-Based Kenyan man who has spent a Decade fighting Deportation [VIDEO]

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A Kenyan-born man who has been fighting deportation from the United States for the last 10 years has shared his story with the Voice of America (VOA).

Sylvester Owino is a small business owner  and a rights activist based in San Diego, California. His family owns Rafikiz Foodz — an authentic African food vendor offering “Kenyan food for your soul,” using fresh ingredients from the local farmers market.

Those who encounter Owino’s welcoming personality are not aware what happens once he is done working for the day. A convicted felon who robbed a shop, Owino is fighting to stay in the United States through an asylum case that has lasted nearly a decade.

Owino arrived in the U.S. from Kenya in 1998 on a student visa, leaving a country where he said he was beaten, jailed and threatened by the government.

Five years later, an addiction to alcohol and gambling derailed him.

“I was going to college, but I used to drink too much,” he said. “And I just quit college because of what had happened in my path and everything. I found this job after leaving college. I was working with disadvantaged people. And then I met some friends through work, and we started drinking after work, go to the casinos, and they introduced me to gambling,” he said.

During one of his last visits to the casino, he found himself out of money and decided to rob a nail salon. He was convicted of second-degree robbery.

“I thought I was going to get probation. And nobody ever explained to me the immigration consequences. So I took a plea, which gave me three years,” Owino said.

He completed a two-year prison sentence and was transferred to the Otay Mesa Detention Center, as Immigration and Customs Enforcement began removal proceedings.

While in detention, Owino began waging what became a more than nine year fight against deportation.

Resisting deportation in the Trump era

Owino is among the more than 1 million people who President Donald Trump has targeted for deportation, including many who were convicted of serious crimes.  Owino is an example of immigrants who broke the law and suffered consequences, but who turned their lives around and now are asking for a second chance to remain in the U.S.

READ ALSO:   Kenyans in US have until June 19th to register for Huduma Namba

However, the nation is sharply divided over immigration policy, and many Americans believe that people like Owino who were convicted of violent crimes should be deported back to their country of origin. Indeed, a Gallup poll earlier this year found that 37% of adults strongly favor or favor deporting all immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

“It’s not right to have these cases dragged on forever, it’s not fair to anybody,” said Jessica M. Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, which backs Trump’s immigration policies. “On the other hand, we have no obligation to allow people to stay here if their behavior is causing problems in our communities. And if they disqualified themselves from the ability to stay here as a permanent resident,” then they have to accept the consequences of their behavior.”

 

 




 

Inside detention

Subject to mandatory immigration detention, Owino was not entitled to a bond hearing.

 

“When I got there, I was in a complete shock. I thought, ‘This was supposed to be better (than state prison,)’ but actually it was worse. … The officers treated us like we have no rights, like we are not human beings,” Owino said.

In a recent interview with reporters, David Fathi, director at ACLU’s National Prison Project, said most people do not think about mass incarceration and unhealthy conditions when they think of immigration detention.

“These are very vulnerable people. Many of them have suffered major physical and emotional trauma, beatings, starvation or rape, either in their home country or on their journey to the United States,” Fathi said.

Those who are “less” traumatized often suffer from cultural dislocation, family separation and the stresses of incarceration, including overcrowding and solitary confinement.

FILE - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents surround and detain a person during a raid in Richmond, Va.
FILE-U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents surround and detain a person during a raid in Richmond, Va.

A Homeland Security inspector general report released at the beginning of the month showed that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had failed to meet government standards for housing migrant detainees at multiple facilities in 2018.

READ ALSO:   Wealthy Kenyans return Sh118bn stashed abroad

Investigators conducted unannounced inspections at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in California, the LaSalle ICE Processing Center in Louisiana, the Essex County Correctional Facility in New Jersey), and the Aurora ICE Processing Center in Colorado.

Poor conditions in facilities

At one of the facilities, inspectors saw mold throughout all the walls in the bathroom area, including shower stalls, ceilings, mirrors, and vents, and warned that prolonged exposure to mold and mildew can cause long-term health issues or allergic reactions.

 

ICE sent a statement to VOA saying the agency “appreciates” the efforts of the Office of Inspector General and that it concurs” with the report’s recommendation and the corrective actions detailed in the report.

“The safety, rights and health of detainees in ICE’s custody are paramount,” ICE said.

On the solitary confinement issue, ICE said the use of restrictive housing in ICE detention facilities is “exceedingly rare, but at times necessary,” to ensure the safety of staff and individuals in a facility.

ICE’s policy to use “special management units” — or solitary confinement cells — is to protect detainees, staff and contractors from harm by segregating certain detainees from the general population for both administrative and disciplinary reasons.

The agency’s spokesperson added that in 2013, ICE issued a directive titled “Review of the Use of Segregation for ICE Detainees,” which requires agency reporting, review, and oversight of every decision to place detainees in segregated housing for over 14 days, and requires immediate reporting and review of segregation placements when heightened concerns exist based on the detainee’s health or other factors.

To Liz Martinez, director of advocacy and strategic communications at Freedom for Immigrants, a nonprofit that has been monitoring the conditions at ICE facilities for years, nothing in the OIG report is “new.”

“The people who are in immigration detention and call us on our free hotline have been reporting these kinds of abuses all the time.” she said.

READ ALSO:   VIDEO: Trump insists on scrapping Green card lottery and make e-verify mandatory

Martinez said the “egregious” violations the OIG found are human rights violations.

“They keep happening over and over again, and no one is held accountable,” she added.

Freedom for Immigrants maintains an up-to-date map of the U.S. immigration detention system with more than 200 immigrant prisons and jails across the country.

According to government data, in fiscal year 2018, about 396,448 people were initially booked into an ICE detention facility, an increase of 22.5% from 2017. ICE’s interior enforcement efforts resulted in a 10% increase in book-ins resulting from ICE arrests.

Freedom for Immigrants’ website shows that 60% of people are held in privately run immigrant prisons.

According to ACLU experts, detained immigrants are the fastest-growing sector of the incarcerated population, from about 35,000 during the Obama years to 52,000 now.

“That’s well above the 45,274 that Congress funded for fiscal year 2019,” Shah said.

 Fighting deportation

After having his case go to the Board of Immigration Appeals twice, and then to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Owino was granted bond with the help of Freedom for Immigrants.

He said it was difficult fighting a deportation case from detention, since unlike in criminal proceedings, immigrants are not entitled to court-appointed attorneys.

Though there were days he thought about accepting deportation, Owino said he decided to make a plan for himself, instead.

“I was scared to go back (to Kenya) based on what happened to me. … I set a program for myself. I thought, ‘If I get out, no more drinking.’ So, I stayed away from that, and that was my No. 1 priority,” he told VOA.

Owino’s next court date is in September. In the meantime, he enjoys the company of his wife and 11-month-old daughter.

He acknowledges he made serious mistakes in his life, but sees himself as an example of what could happen if detained immigrants are given an opportunity to rebuild their lives.

“I’m just blessed, you know?”

SOURCE: VOA

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Diaspora

HAPPY ENDING: Joy as 84 year-old Kenyan man who has lived in US for 60 yrs returns home to a rousing welcome [PHOTOS]

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BY CHRISTINE MUCHENE

A journey that started in March last year is now complete. Mr. James Mugweru has finally arrived in his motherland, Kenya, after 6 dacades in the United States.

It was pomp and colour as family and friends  gathered in Nakuru to welcome him with a very warm and rousing reception.
Mugweru, 84, came to the US through the famous educational air lift organized by the late Tom Mboya in 1959.He had only returned to Kenya twice in those 60 years he has been in the US.

Around March last year, I was approached by a young man in Kenya to help trace his grandfather whom they had never seen but would hear from stories that he lived in America.

It however did not take me long to fish him out of where he was, thanks to internet.

He was living in a facility for Senior Citizens in Union city, Georgia.

I thereafter introduced him to my Church family – Kenyan American Community Church (KACC) – and they contributed money for his ticket to Kenya.

Mugweru left the country on February 19th.

I would like to thank all those who have walked this one year journey with him providing the much needed stuff and above all, loving him as Christ would do.

READ ALSO:   Wealthy Kenyans return Sh118bn stashed abroad

He has always been intrigued by the concern some of you have shown.

Mr. Mugweru has 2 living siblings aged 100 and 80 who were eager and looking forward to reuniting with their lost brother.
Finally thank you Atlanta Kenyan community for believing in my Judgment towards serving God’s people. Without all of you, I would not be of help to the community. God bless.

We do hope that he will come back to visit as you all know that after having lost reality with a country he left long time ago, it can be rough especially in old age and the most needed health care can be out of reach due to lack of money.

This man has been away for too long and those back home could be having high expectation of him and if the same is not there, the happiness may just be temporary leading to abandonment.

He left Kenya undeveloped and the whole country will appear strange not to mention the culture shock.

We, all the same, hope that God will guide him.  To the great people who have given him great love, God bless all.

Chances are he will come back as he cannot fit in Kenya after even loosing his mother tongue and cannot fluently speak Kiswahili which is also forgotten.

READ ALSO:   VIDEO: Trump insists on scrapping Green card lottery and make e-verify mandatory

It is not easy for James as this is simply a very sad case and maybe a lesson for many, to be prepared and able to face the uncertain, unknown future.

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Diaspora

VIDEO: Kenyan woman deported from the US after 21 Years now living in squalor in Nairobi

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BY BMJ MURIITHI

A Kenyan woman who moved to the US in 1986 and was deported 21 years later is now leading a miserable life in Nairobi.

Joy Mukwanjero who was born in Meru – but for the most part brought up in Nairobi- says she had nothing to show for her long stay in “the land of plenty” as she had fallen into wrong company before the immigration officials came calling.

In an interview with Tuko News, Joy, who went to some of the best schools in Kenya, tells of how – upon arrival in the US – she got married to a man who introduced her to “partying.”

“I took a job in the hospitality industry and also enrolled for a political science course at the University of San Fransisco but dropped out midway to focus on my job.”

She says it was after moving in with her husband that she became an alcoholic.

“We soon separated and I moved to a different city in California,” she says.

She was later arrested by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers over lack of proper documents.

Joy was detained for some time and was later deported.

With nothing to show for her stay and while still battling addiction, she began looking for a job in the hospitality industry but with no success.

READ ALSO:   Wealthy Kenyans return Sh118bn stashed abroad

She later checked herself  into a rehabilitation center.

A pale shadow of her former self, a jovial looking Joy still hopes that her dreams will one day come true.

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Diaspora

VIDEO: Homeless Kenyans in the US and the Dark Secrets

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“There was one shower, for the entire floor. There were bedbugs. There were rats. People come from the streets with all sorts of things, you know. It was difficult. It was very difficult,” so begins my conversation with Moses Munene, who was homeless in Washington DC.

Yet that’s not what comes to mind when you speak to Moses Munene, now a property developer in Kenya.

As he narrates his tale with charming candour it is difficult to lump the arresting personality with an image of those who bear the tag ‘homeless’.

But for one and a half years, Munene was indeed homeless in Washington DC, the capital of the United States, the land of opportunity, or so it has been termed.

A Kenyan by birth, he travelled to the US in 2002, seeking medical treatment after a bad fall injured his spine, he was 36 then.

“Once I got to DC, I stayed with one guy for two to three days, who then took me to a Christian place where I could live but they wouldn’t take me in. I called the Kenyan embassy then but they didn’t have any options, so I slept out in the cold that night.”

Perhaps it was a foreshadowing of things to come but Munene could not have known this then. After two nights in the cold, a lady from the Kenyan embassy referred him to Christ House.

“I was taken in by a medical facility for the homeless, Christ House. They arranged everything from my medical insurance to planning for my surgery.

“I stayed there for around six months but they could only host me for the duration of my treatment. Once that ended, they had no choice but to take me to a shelter.”

READ ALSO:   Wealthy Kenyans return Sh118bn stashed abroad

This was the turn of the road where Munene, a man of great faith as is evident from the references he splices in throughout our conversation, began his solitary sojourn into the world of homelessness.

Lunch

“It was hard. In the shelter, once you wake up in the morning you leave so they can clean. So I used to go to hotels where meetings were held. I’d spend my whole day there, sometimes I’d get lunch if they were serving it and come back to the shelter in the evening.”

Pulling from his wealth of memories, Munene paints me a picture of the shape that life took while he lived at the shelter.

“Everyone has their own bed where you put your suitcase, sometimes it gets really cold and you don’t want to leave. People would smoke in the shelter so when you came in you’d find everyone smoking everywhere.”

Munene explained that the shelter had a six-month policy. Once you exhausted your months, you’d have to go back to the streets. Yet, with the industrious spirit of the motherland colouring his bones, the Kenyan got a job as a desk monitor and was able to extend his stay for another six months.

I asked Munene how his family allowed him to live in a shelter in a foreign country, yet he had a house waiting for him in Kenya.

“My family didn’t know I was in the shelter, I lied. I told them I was in college because once you are here people expect you to have a certain kind of income.”

READ ALSO:   VIDEO: Trump insists on scrapping Green card lottery and make e-verify mandatory

For every hill, a valley and Munene eventually emerged into the light when his troubles made it to the ears of Kenyans in the diaspora.

“When Kenyans in Washington found out that their fellow countryman was living in a shelter, they came together and had a small fundraiser after which I was able to rent an apartment.

With the rest of the money, I set up a small curio stand in DC. I would get the things from Kenya: they’d send me kiondo’s and earrings and things like that and that’s what I did for nine years.”

Not one to miss an opportunity, he narrates how he learned to work the system so he wouldn’t have to rely solely on imports from Kenya.

“Sometimes I’d go to New York once a month, you could find earrings from China that looked like the ones from Kenya. I’d buy a dozen for 12 dollars and sell a pair for 10 dollars. I’d mix them up with the ones in Kenya which made things easier for me because importing from Kenya was expensive.”

Eventually, as it always does, life came full circle and Munene came back to Kenya lifetimes wiser to start his business. However, he was quick to clarify that the homelessness that he had to battle and grapple was not a lone occurrence but rather an open secret among many nationals who seek their fortunes in the US.

Moses Munene at his curio stand which he ran for 9 years. PHOTO|COURTESY

“Kenyans are homeless, you go to places especially in Baltimore and you find a big group of Kenyans who are homeless. They live in abandoned buildings. They light fires in the wintertime to ward off the cold.

READ ALSO:   Kenyans in US have until June 19th to register for Huduma Namba

In DC, I met people who’ve been there since the Tom Mboya Airlift: old men, people who’ve been there for a very long time. There was an ageing Luo I met, he was hungry most of the time. It [homelessness] is a very difficult thing.”

I ask him why they stay, why they wouldn’t just come back home. He explains that for them, it is difficult to return with empty hands from a land where they are expected to draw the milk and the honey.

“I have a friend there [in the US], the brother of a former Cabinet minister. The guy was homeless then, yet they are well up in Kenya. He doesn’t go back home because they’d ask him what he’s been doing. He has degrees, he has a masters from there.”

With a clarity sharpened by experience, he explains the situation, “They have that fear, to go back home with nothing to show.”

Munene is perhaps luckier than most. While he was able to return, those he has left behind can no longer be covered with the muslin cloth that we have weaved with our fantasies of America, the promised land.

Yet, these Kenyans on the streets of Baltimore, of DC, of Atlanta have homes. Maybe what bars the door are the locks of our own expectations, the expectations we place on the heads of those who leave like a crown.

“It takes a lot of courage to come back,” says Munene, a statement that bears more gravity than we should allow it.

SOURCE-Kenyans.co.ke

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