Deportation looms for Glenwood man
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Sam Irmen might not get to take that golf trip with his buddy Henry Akim Gama, who’s locked up and facing deportation to his home country of Zimbabwe.
Golf, like his many friends, was one of the things Gama came to love in America, Irmen said.
“He absolutely fell in love with the game,” Irmen said. “He went out and got his own clubs. He practiced in the back yard. He talked about it all the time. … He never had an opportunity to do it growing up.”
Irmen has known Gama for about six years and used to be his roommate. A group of their friends talked about taking a golf trip to Mesquite, Nev., for years but never made it.
Gama’s friends, his former employer and a Glenwood Springs city councilman believe he was unfairly written off by the government for missing a court date and has never been given a chance to present his case for asylum in the U.S. They say Gama played by the rules, worked and paid taxes.
Friends found it ironic that it was his effort to gain asylum ” albeit late and imperfectly done ” that led to his arrest.
They fear his deportation to a country rife with political turmoil would be dangerous because Gama was a member of a political party that opposed the government.
Gama’s father was reportedly killed after Gama fled to the U.S. in 2000, and government agents are said to have asked where Gama was during his mother’s funeral last February.
Irmen said it’s strange to hear about a lack of resources to take care of illegal immigration problems, yet on a September morning, eight armed Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents surrounded his house looking for Gama.
“The entire human element has been taken out of things,” Irmen said. “We don’t care about the individual. We just care about what the paperwork says. To me that doesn’t make any sense.”
Many friends have echoed Irmen’s comments that being deported for missing a court date seems unfair. A fundraiser at Rivers Restaurant, where Gama waited tables, netted about $8,000. Almost all of that was spent on legal fees.
“I met him working at Rivers and he’s just been part of the family ever since,” said Sheila Davis. “My kids adore him and love him. … He has a great sense of humor, easygoing. He would do anything in the world for you.”
His friends say Gama could be deported any day from a detention facility in Aurora. Phone messages to Gama at the facility haven’t been returned.
City Councilman Dave Sturges, a friend of Gama’s, said he’s directing people to contact U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar’s Denver office to ask for help. Four people told him they’ve contacted the office, and many others planned to, he said.
Sturges said Salazar’s office sent a release form Jan. 18 for Gama to sign. It says Salazar must receive Gama’s permission in writing before making any inquiry.
Sen. Salazar’s press secretary, Stephanie Valencia, said, “At this point, because he didn’t follow procedure in the application for asylum and didn’t show up for his hearing, there’s not much recourse the senator’s office can do.”
According to ICE spokesperson Carl Rusnok, Gama entered the U.S. in 2000 as an exchange visitor, which allowed him to be here legally until 2002. Gama applied for immigration benefits in 2004 and was denied by a federal judge. ICE issued a notice to appear at immigration court in August 2006. Gama missed it and the judge ordered him removed. ICE arrested Gama in September, Rusnok said.
In August, an immigration judge denied a motion to reopen Gama’s case.