Deportation could mean death for immigrant, friends say
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Some Glenwood Springs residents are angry that a local worker still sits in a holding cell in Aurora awaiting deportation to Zimbabwe.
In his friends’ eyes, Akim Gama was written off for missing a court date, and the government has not even taken a good look at his case for asylum in the U.S.
“Absolutely, it’s unfair,” said Dave Sturges. “I am angry at the poor legal assistance he got initially. I’m angry at the system or the process that the hearing judge gave him.”
Sturges is a Glenwood Springs City councilor and a friend of Gama’s.
Deporting someone, or in this case sending Gama back to a “possible death sentence,” should not be the way the U.S. deals with a person who’s missed a court date by 10 days, he said.
Gama worked at the Rivers Restaurant in Glenwood Springs for about four years until federal agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested him there on Sept. 11. He was arrested for missing an August 2006 court date regarding his application for asylum. Gama came to the country in 2000 to escape political turmoil in Zimbabwe.
Sturges said he knows from his experience just how difficult it can be to cut through red tape and get the government to listen. He practiced law for about 30 years, including serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago.
“All he needs to do is get somebody that will examine his application for asylum. Nobody has done that yet,” Sturges said. “I’ve seen the application, and it’s very well documented. That’s what’s stupid about this whole thing.
It’s about a guy that has been here, has been employed, respected, has many, many friends in this valley and other places he’s worked, and the whole issue is the U.S. government thinks it has to send him back to either Zimbabwe or Malawi.”
Gama’s friends and former employer feel he’s an exemplary case of someone who should be allowed to stay in the U.S. They say Gama came to the country and worked legally, paid his taxes and tried to do everything by the rules.
Now they’re afraid for his safety should he be deported.
“He was an active member of the opposition party in Zimbabwe,” Sturges said. “His father may have been lost because of his work on that group.”
Sturges said family or friends told Gama that two law enforcement agents in plain clothes came to Gama’s mother’s funeral last year looking for Gama.
Efforts to reach Gama at the ICE facility in Aurora were unsuccessful.
Sturges visited Gama a few weeks ago.
“I wanted to see my friend,” he said. “I wanted to see where he was.”
He said he tried to talk to Gama about not getting discouraged. “I think he is discouraged,” Sturges said. “He’s in a facility with 350 people that was not set up for people to be there for over 90 days. Somebody said there are two or three TVs in the place and they only get three channels. There’s no library.”
Sturges said he generally tries to be calm and not overstate things, but Gama’s situation really makes him angry.
Gama has received support and donations from local organizations including Rivers Restaurant and the Glenwood Springs Rotary Club. A fundraiser held at Rivers netted around $8,000 to pay for Gama’s legal fees or for cash for him to have should he be deported.
P.J. Jaycox, president of the Glenwood Springs Rotary Club, said, “He is just an extremely personable young man. If all the immigrants coming into the U.S. were like him, we’d be doing great.”
According to Sturges, a motion to reopen Gama’s case was filed in November and denied, but since then Gama’s attorney has filed an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals and has also filed an emergency motion for stay of removal from the country. The outcome is still up in the air.
“I’m hopeful that somebody will go back and look at the issue of why he was late for 10 days or didn’t have the right date, and what is the appropriate thing to do on his request for asylum,” Sturges said.