Why many Kenyans are not resting easy in America

Protestors rally during a protest against the Muslim immigration ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City in the United States on January 28, 2017. PHOTO | STEPHANIE KEITH | AFP
Protestors rally during a protest against the Muslim immigration ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City in the United States on January 28, 2017. PHOTO | STEPHANIE KEITH | AFP

Kenyan-born Mr Noor Hassan (last name withheld to protect true identity), a resident of Springfield, Pennsylvania, finds himself in a quandary following recent indications that President Donald Trump will make good his threat to deport millions of people living in the United States (US) illegally. Even though Mr Hassan came to the US as a visitor and later overstayed his visa about three years ago, he started the process of regularising his status when he applied for a Green Card after marrying an American woman. He now works as a lorry driver and his application is pending.

This week he got a phone call that his ailing mother had died in Kenya on the same day reports emerged that Somalia would be one of the countries whose citizens would find it hard to get US visas. Even though he has the right papers, his dilemma remains: are there guarantees he will be allowed back to the US if he travels to Kenya, considering the increasingly tough stand?

“I’m Kenyan but I’m a Kenyan of Somali origin. However, when people look at me, they see a Somali and so that is how I’m treated even in Kenya,” said Mr Hassan.


Other countries where immigration to the US has been restricted by Mr Trump’s executive order, and who will undergo extreme vetting, include Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. More worrying are claims that some Green Card holders have been denied entry to the US.

Mr Hassan’s dilemma is something that is shared by thousands of Kenyans currently living in the US, especially those without proper authorisation, and Green Card holders.

Immigration attorneys and advocacy groups who spoke to the Nation said they have been receiving many inquiries in the last few days. Some, like Mr Hassan, want to attend to personal issues, others are Green Card holders, some are students wanting to return to Kenya briefly while others are families that want to go on vacation. All of them, most lawyers are advising, should stay put.

Kenyan-born US-based lawyer Regina Njogu advises caution for anyone without proper documentation seeking to travel now.

“I don’t want to make people scared for no good reason because I believe the US is still run by the rule of law, but I think caution is best right now until we see what happens in the coming days,” she says.


Last week, President Trump issued an executive order – “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” – that most lawyers and advocacy groups say potentially makes almost every undocumented immigrant a deportation priority. By doing away with the policy during Barack Obama presidency’s of prioritising those who pose the most danger to communities, serious criminals and national security risks, President Trump has in effect thrown away any notion of “deportation priorities” out the window. Experts say that Trump’s plan is a blueprint to implement his campaign promises of mass deportation, and it puts in place the Deportation Force to carry out his plan.

David Amakobe, a Kenyan-born immigration activist in Middletown, Delaware, is concerned about the tough anti-immigrant stance. Mr Amakobe says that for instance, under Mr Trump’s Executive Order there are four basic priorities, but taken together they actually throw any notion of prioritisation out the window. They include those convicted of any offence, those who have been charged of a crime but not convicted, those who have broken the law but have neither been charged nor convicted, and people with final administrative deportation orders.

Immigration experts say the categorisation is so broad that minor offences such as parking tickets could potentially be in the same category as murder.


Experts like Robert Carter, an immigration lawyer based in Philadelphia, argue that this broad language is “unquestionably aimed at undocumented immigrants who, because of their immigration status, have driven without a licence or been ticketed for a burned out tail light. Once again, traffic violations will become deportable offences”.

It is this lack of clarity in these initial stages that is giving many Kenyans living in the US without proper authorisation sleepless nights. Mr Simon Kamau, a Kenyan-born resident of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, says he is considering relocating to Nairobi with his children – born in the US.

Mr Kamau is one of an estimated four million immigrants in the US who had hoped they would potentially have qualified for the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans programme announced by President Obama in 2014. This was meant to allow undocumented parents with children who are US citizens to qualify for permission to work and a temporary protection from deportation if they met certain conditions. However, there have been legal challenges against the programme and President Trump has promised to rescind them.

Mr Amakobe says it’s the wrong time to be an illegal immigrant in the US.

“But, people should know that this too shall pass because America has been here several times before Soon, there is going to be a backlash and the country will come back to its senses,” he says.

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