Two Kenyan immigrants detained by U.S. immigration officials in Salt Lake City on March 1 have voluntarily agreed to exit the country, leaving the door open for their return after no less than 10 years.
There are few details available regarding the case of Ahmed Khamis Bwika and Emma Ondeko Bwika, who entered the country in February 2006 on a temporary visitor visa, according to U.S. Immigration officials.
The pair remained at the Cache County jail on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention hold, Cache County officials said Monday.
The couple had applied for asylum, said Noor Ul-Hasan, a Muslim community leader.
On Friday, members of Madina Masjid Mosque, 1773 W. North Temple, were angry and fearful that ICE was targeting Muslims. At that time, mosque members believed the couple were within the law.
They had been affiliated with the mosque for 11 years, said Imam Yusuf Abdi.
A statement from ICE said the Bwikas would be deported: “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.”
On Monday, Abdi said the couple’s 23-year-old son, Ahmed, was scheduled to be deported in coming weeks.
By agreeing to leave voluntarily, the couple will face less strict reentry rules than if they were forcibly removed from the U.S., said Aden Batar, director of immigration and refugee settlement for Catholic Community Services in Salt Lake City.
Nonetheless, federal immigration policies dictate that they cannot return for at least 10 years.
The Bwiki case adds fear to an already anxious immigrant community. The administration of President Donald Trump is tightening immigration policies.
Jim McConkie, an attorney who helped found the Refugee Justice League of Utah, said Friday he did not know the specifics of the Bwika case. But he said that asylum seekers often make mistakes filling out required papers to maintain legal refugee status. When they are arrested, they are forced to return to their homeland.
Monday, an attorney for the Bwikas said he could not comment on the specifics of their case.