Deaf immigrant facing deportation is ‘model citizen’ with a ‘wide smile,’ friends say

Francis Anwana, a deaf and disabled immigrant from Nigeria who has been in the U.S. for 35 years, was originally slated for deportation on Sept. 11, but now he has a meeting with ICE on Sept. 21.
Francis Anwana, a deaf and disabled immigrant from Nigeria who has been in the U.S. for 35 years, was originally slated for deportation on Sept. 11, but now he has a meeting with ICE on Sept. 21. Screenshot from Diane Newman's Facebook

Since coming to the U.S. on a student visa as a teen, Francis Anwana has called this country home for 35 years.

Now Anwana — who is deaf, cognitively impaired and lives in an adult foster care facility — could soon be deported back to Nigeria, according to The Detroit Free Press. He was originally slated for a Sept. 11 deportation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the newspaper wrote, but now has a Sept. 21 meeting with the law enforcement agency as his deportation is postponed.

For those who know Anwana, deportation “would result in his death,” according to a website created by advocates for the man. The 48-year-old first came to this country with his father in 1983, the page reads, and in 1988 he attended the Lutheran School for the Deaf in Detroit, Michigan, which he graduated from in 1992.

“Francis had had no opportunities to go to school, acquire a language, or even communicate with his family,” the page reads. “He did not know how to read or write; he did not even know his own name. His father understood that without education and a means to communicate, Francis’ future would be bleak.”

After he graduated from the school, Anwana’s student visa expired, according to Michigan Public Radio. He was denied a request for asylum after ICE discovered he was in the country illegally, and since 2008 he has met yearly with immigration officials.

Then came the sudden news that Anwana was slated for deportation on Sept. 11. As reported by Michigan Public Radio, the man had less than a week to prepare for his return to Nigeria — but then ICE officials delayed the deportation and set up a Sept. 21 meeting with the man.

Khaalid Walls, spokesman for the Michigan and Ohio office of ICE, told the newspaper that “this removal is not imminent at this time.”

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If he is forced to leave, Susan Reed, an attorney with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, told The Detroit Free Press that it would be like a “death sentence” because his “elderly mother in Nigeria has no ability to support him or meet any of his medical needs.”

Sarah Shaw, a translator for the man, told The Detroit Free Press that Anwana is a “model citizen.” He lives in a foster care home in Michigan and spends time helping clean a church in the area.

And the website created for Anwana says that the man with a “wide smile” would be “confused and afraid” if he was forced to go to Nigeria.

“He would be provided a flight to Nigeria; yet, unable to navigate through a busy terminal and under extreme stress, Francis would struggle to reach his seat. By the time he arrived in Nigeria, Francis would be distraught,” it reads. “It is unknown if ICE would have anyone identified to meet him at the gate and to acclimate him to a country he has not stepped foot in for over 30 years. And he is deaf.”

“He would be an easy target to hucksters looking to prey on the vulnerable,” the statement continues. “In Nigeria there is no meaningful safety net for him. Francis would end up on the streets. Deprived of necessary medications, he would deteriorate.

“In short, to deport him would result in his death.”

Diane Newman, who taught Anwana at the Lutheran School for the Deaf, told Michigan Public Radio that she’s hoping for a positive outcome for Anwana, whom she described in a Facebook post as “an adopted and loved member of our family.”

“He’s happy here, he’s acclimated well, he doesn’t cause any problems, and this is the life that he has wanted,” she told the outlet. “And it would be a travesty ... if he had to go back.”

On Saturday, Newman took to Facebook again and urged her friends to continue speaking out for Anwana by calling their representatives in Congress.

She wrote that “my humble and unassuming friend, Francis, has truly no understanding that he has been splashed all over news and social media, and that concerned and generous folks have banned together to help and support him.”

“I do know that he wants to continue to live quietly and peacefully,” she added, “in the country that has been his home for over 35 years.”

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