Students, community rally for Augsburg professor facing deportation

A beloved Augsburg University professor, who is facing possible deportation, is receiving a groundswell of support from students and community members.

Humbled by the crowd waiting for him, Dr. Mzenga Wanyama thanked dozens of supporters as he stepped out of his latest meeting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement Friday.

“Even if they had detained me, your presence here would have made me happy right in there,” said Wanyama.

Wanyama said this is roughly his third so called "flare up" with ICE, but it is the first time he has not hidden meeting with agents from his close friends and colleagues. 

After coming to the United States from Kenya in 1992 seeking political asylum, Wanyama received a doctorate from the University of Minnesota and later taught in St. Cloud. He now teaches African-American literary history and postcolonial theory and literatures at Augsburg University. He has no criminal record and has not missed a single supervised check-in with immigration agents, but has now over-stayed his visa.

“I must admit one of the reasons I didn't talk about it is because I feel embarrassed,” said Wanyama. “I feel embarrassed to think I have problem like this.”

In a statement, ICE clarifies Professor Wanyama does not have legal status. He entered the U.S. several times on nonimmigrant visas between 1992 and 2005. He overstayed his most recent term of admission by several years. 

In 2010, a federal immigration judge granted him voluntary departure, requiring him to leave by mid-June 2010. He did not and instead appealed the decision. In December of 2011, the Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed his case, granting him 60 days to leave the country. Again, he did not follow the court order. 

In 2012, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Wanyama's petition to review the case and since he did not depart by the court ordered deadline, he automatically becomes subject to the final order for removal.

“You can't want to be a part of this great nation and not respect its laws,” said ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan in a statement in part. “When that due process is over, that final order from a federal judge needs to mean something or this whole system has no integrity.”

“I think diversity is under attack,” said Gabriel Benson, one of Professor Wanyam’s students.

Wanyama will meet with ICE again next month and was instructed to make concrete plans for his departure back to Kenya. 

To show their support for the professor, students and community members started an online petition, which has more than 7,000 signatures.

“I really don’t know how to say thank you, because I don’t think I’ve done anything to deserve this, so this is not about me,” Wanyama said to the group. “This is about you and what you can do to make things move.”

The president of Augsburg University and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey say they are working to help Dr. Wanyama get to an immigration status that will allow him to stay.

Augsburg University President Paul Pribbenow full statement:

“We are relieved for the moment that Dr. Mzenga Wanyama has additional time to pursue options to stay in the United States long term. We support him and intend to vigorously work toward an immigration status that will allow him to stay. Augsburg’s mission embraces people from a diversity of life experiences, and Dr. Wanyama has been a respected friend, teacher, and peer. Dr. Wanyama’s scholarship in postcolonial theory and literatures and in African-American literary history plays a critical role in Augsburg’s undergraduate curriculum. His expertise is unique and would certainly be very difficult to replace. We are grateful for the thousands of people who’ve voiced their support for Dr. Wanyama to remain in the United States.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey full statement:

“Dr. Mzenga Aggrey Wanyama is a pillar in his community. For over two decades he’s helped shape future leaders in Minneapolis and beyond. Our city and our region are better for his work. No President, no federal agency will deport Dr. Wanyama without a fight from me, from our partners in the state and federal delegations, and from the thousands of people in Minneapolis who share our values.”

ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan full statement:

“You can't want to be a part of this great nation and not respect its laws. So when you violate the laws of this country -- and the taxpayers in this country spend billions of dollars a year on border security, immigration court, detention. And they go through a process. They get a decision from the immigration judge -- most times will appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals, then to a circuit court. When that due process is over, that final order from a federal judge needs to mean something or this whole system has no integrity.”