Born and raised in Nigeria, Francis Anwana was just 14 years old when he came to the United States on a student visa.
He was deaf, couldn’t talk, and had cognitive disabilities, enrolling at the Michigan School for the Deaf in Flint.
Now 48, Anwana lives in Detroit at an adult foster care facility, helping mow the lawns and mop the floors at a nearby church on Detroit’s west side.
But in a shock to immigrant advocates, the U.S. now wants to deport Anwana to Nigeria, a country he has not lived since he was a teenager. Given his severe disabilities, it would be a virtual “death sentence” for him, said Susan Reed, an attorney with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.
Because of his disability, Anwana can only read at a second-grade level and is unable to mentally grasp the fact he could be forced to go back to Nigeria, according to advocates and his lawyer.
On Wednesday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told Anwana he would be deported on Tuesday, Sept. 11, according to advocates for Anwana. After the advocates raised concerns, ICE told them Friday that his deportation has been postponed. Anwana has a meeting with ICE set for Sept. 21.
“This removal is not imminent at this time,” Khaalid Walls, spokesman for the Michigan and Ohio office of ICE, said Friday.
Several years ago, his visa was not renewed because he was often moved around from group homes and caretakers lost track of his case, said local advocates. They repeatedly tried to get him a path to citizenship, but failed. He has no criminal record, advocates say.
He is not eligible for DACA because of his age.
Help for disabilities
Anwana was born in a small village in the area of Lagos, Nigeria, one of about eight or 10 children, said Diane Newman, an educator who has assisted Anwana over the years.
“It was a very loving family,” Newman said. “But they understood they would not be able to provide him a life in Nigeria … as a handicapped person.”
After immigrating to the U.S., he was able to learn sign language and lived in Flint for most of his life before moving to Detroit in January to stay at a different group home.
“About a decade ago, someone tried to help him by applying for citizenship,” said Reed, the immigration attorney helping him. “He was denied because he was ineligible, placed in deportation proceedings, and finally denied asylum which he sought based on conditions for people with his condition in Nigeria.”
Anwana has been compliant with his orders to show up for regular check-ins. On Tuesday, he was told by ICE to show up the next day again, when he was then told he would have to leave on Sept. 11.
The move stunned longtime immigration advocates who say such an order failed to take into consideration Anwana’s unusual circumstances of being disabled, and the fact he has lived in the U.S. for so long.
On Friday, he communicated to the Free Press by sign language through a translator, Sarah Shaw, who has known him for years. The two were students at the school for the deaf in Flint.
“I am happy” living in the U.S., he said. Shaw, who is helping Anwana navigate ICE check-ins, said he is unable to understand what deportation is and his immigration proceedings.
Anwana enjoys soccer and basketball, and helping out with chores.
“He’s been a model citizen,” said Shaw.
Reed said that he “has lived in group homes and supportive environments for many years and won the love and friendship of many, but he has no family in the U.S. His elderly mother in Nigeria has no ability to support him or meet any of his medical needs. He needs medication to manage his conditions.”
Fatou-Seydi Sarr, with the African Bureau for Immigration and Social Affairs, said that “with his condition, life in Nigeria will be very, very bad, and can lead to death for not receiving proper medical care.