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Kenyan couple in Utah for a decade faces deportation; ICE says they overstayed visitor visas

By Marjorie Cortez | Posted - Mar. 10, 2017 at 8:02 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — Friday prayers at Madina Islamic Center haven't been the same since Ahmed Khamis Bwika and his wife, Emma Ondeko Bwika, were taken into immigration custody on March 1.

"We need our friend to come back," said Imam Yussuf Abdi said at a rally of support Friday afternoon for the Kenyan couple who are being held in the Cache County Jail. The couple's son has told religious leaders that his parents, who have lived, worked and worshipped in Utah for more than a decade, will likely be deported to Kenya on Monday.

With time running out, Utah's interfaith community turned out to support Utah's Muslim community and to offer prayers for the couple's release.

At a minimum, the pair deserves to meet with their spiritual leader so he can check on their welfare and guide them during a time of fear and uncertainty, said Noor Ul-Hasan, a community leader among Utah Muslims.

The community has little information about the couple's status or why they were taken into custody.

Richard Anzures, who has worked with Bwika for eight years, said he came into work on March 1 and said he had been told to report to the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement office and to bring an airplane ticket to Kenya with him.

Anzures said it is unclear what precipitated the request since Bwika and his wife work for an airline contractor and are subject to criminal background checks.

A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the couple entered the United States in February 2006 on temporary visitor visas.

A federal immigration judge denied their request for immigration benefits and granted them voluntary departure. They have overstayed their original visas by more than 10 years and have exhausted all their legal appeals. As a result, they were taken into custody when they reported to ICE March 1, according to ICE regional spokesman Carl Rusnok.

Imam Abdi said the Muslim community has been in fear since the couple was taken into custody, fretting that the couple was targeted because of their religious beliefs.

Salt Lake attorney Jim McConkie, founder of the Refugee Justice League, is not representing the couple but said their options were likely limited because they did not enter the United States as refugees, which would have given them a broader array of legal protections.

Aden Batar, director of immigration and refugee resettlement for Catholic Community Services of Utah, said he was unfamiliar with the couple's immigration issues but said in the wake of executive orders halting refugee resettlement, the travel ban for citizens of six majority Muslim countries and President Donald Trump's campaign promises to crack down on unauthorized immigration, there is tremendous fear and confusion among immigrant communities.

To help stem those concerns and advise immigrants and refugees of their rights how the latest executive order can impact them, the nonprofit organization will host a community education meeting at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Utah Refugee and Training Center, 250 W. 3900 South.

"I have received a lot of calls from the Muslim community. They are really worried. Immigrants and refugees are worried and these are law-abiding citizens," he said.

Anzures said he understands the need to ensure the nation's safety and he agrees with many of the measures Trump has put into place.

"What he is forgetting is the human face" of people affected by immigration enforcement actions.

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Marjorie Cortez

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