(This story is by the Brattleboro Reformer, in which it first appeared Oct. 12, 2017.)
BRATTLEBORO — Community member Mamadou Bah was spirited away to Canada on Thursday to avoid being deported to his native Guinea West Africa, from where he fled in 2002.
Bah had been told by U.S. Customs and Immigration Services to turn himself in on Thursday for his return to his native country. According to Lost River Racial Justice, which has been advocating for him to stay in Vermont, Mamadou was a political prisoner before fleeing Guinea in 2002.
Bah’s wife, Shawna Janelle Bah, posted on Facebook on Thursday afternoon that Canada gave her husband asylum and will allow him to stay until June 18.
“He’ll be with his nephew who lives just over the Vermont border in Quebec,” she wrote on Facebook. “We will continue to apply for his return to Vermont; in the meantime we can visit anytime.”
Mamadou Bah told Lost River Racial Justice that he feared death if he was returned to his home country.
Members of the community are invited to a rally Saturday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at Pliny Park to show support for Mamadou Bah and his family and demand that USCIS change its immigration policy to stop splitting up families and stop deporting immigrants. This event is co-organized by The Root Social Justice Center and its People of Color Caucus, Brattleboro Solidarity, and Lost River Racial Justice.
Mamadou Bah’s order of deportation was issued July 14, when he and his wife traveled to St. Albans for an appointment at the USCIS office.
Even though Bah was told to leave in 2009, he remained in the United States, Shawna Bah said.
“Mamadou has never been in trouble with the law. Not even a parking ticket. His fingerprints were run the day we went to USCIS and nothing came up on his record. He is well-liked in his Brattleboro community, a hard worker, and loved by his family and friends. He is a proud Muslim and has spoken about Islam to many area churches in Brattleboro as a guest speaker,” according to her.
Vermont’s congressional delegation issued a statement Thursday saying its members had written to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Sept. 5 requesting that it not deport Mamadou Bah pending the results of his motions in Immigration Court and his application for a green card based on his marriage to a U.S. citizen. ICE denied the request Sept. 13, according to the statement from Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.
“We are appalled that the Trump administration is pursuing an unbridled effort to deport contributing members of our community with no room for compassion or moderation,” the delegation said in the statement. “… Prior administrations focused our limited immigration enforcement resources on removing criminals and those who pose a public safety risk. This administration foolishly considers almost all undocumented immigrants a priority for removal, which results in cases where people are ripped from their U.S. citizen spouses and children, leaving broken families in their wake.”
When Mamadou Bah first arrived in the United States, he spent his first days riding the subway in New York City, not knowing where to get off, until he found a man at the station who spoke his language, according to his wife. “After three long days on the subway, he discovered he had only been a block away from his destination,” said Shawna Bah. “A month after arriving in New York City, his wife at that time died in an accident along with their unborn child, a daughter, back in his home country.”
Shawna Bah, her children and the community are hoping to find a way to keep him from being deported.
“When Mamadou and I were married, he became a stepfather to my children,” said Shawna Bah. “My 15-year-old daughter loves him dearly. Though she is disabled; legally blind, autistic, and nonverbal, they communicate in a way that can make your heart smile. She would be devastated if he were gone. Mamadou and I have a son together, who is very much a daddy’s boy. He was born in 2013 and with only one functioning kidney. Though he is healthy, this requires traveling to Lebanon, New Hampshire, to go to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center every six months so that the doctors can monitor the function of his good kidney. For these two reasons, living in Guinea would not be a realistic plan for my family if he were indeed deported.”
Mamadou Bah’s tenuous situation has also been a drain on the family’s finances, she said. A fundraising campaign is underway.
“Financially this is all very draining to support a family of six. With the cost of travel to and from USCIS, trips to Dartmouth, and the cost of lawyer fees, gas, baby-sitting, and our everyday bills, this situation has put an even larger strain on the family. We are asking for any support that could lessen our financial burden,” she said.
The Root Social Justice Center provides a physically and financially accessible space in southern Vermont for social justice groups to meet and is a hub for racial justice organizing. Brattleboro Solidarity is a group acting with the people of the world who are resisting injustices.
Lost River Racial Justice is an affiliate of the national organization Showing Up for Racial Justice. Members do local community organizing using a racial justice lens and work to build accountable relationships with people of color-led organizations.
For a Facebook interview with Mamadou Bah, click here.