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If immigration is now merit-based, why are feds targeting Augsburg professor?

Dr. Mzenga Wanyama has lived in the U.S. for the past 26 years, has no criminal record, and is Augsburg's only expert in African literature

Dr. Mzenga Wanyama has lived in the U.S. for the past 26 years, has no criminal record, and is Augsburg's only expert in African literature Mzenga Wanyama

Nearly 46 million people tuned in to Donald Trump's State of the Union in January, when he announced his vision for "merit-based" immigration reform, a system that would welcome only the most educated, wealthy, and English-fluent people from around the world.

Does that mean tenured English professors are in the clear? Evidently not.

Augsburg University's Dr. Mzenga Wanyama, a Kenyan-born graduate of the University of Minnesota who now teaches post-colonial theory and African American literature, has just been asked to attend a meeting Friday morning at the ICE office in St. Paul to discuss his immigration status and "plans for removal."

Wanyama arrived in the United States in 1992, at a time when Kenya's transformation from a one-party state into a multiparty system provoked ethnic violence. Thousands were murdered and many more displaced.  

After his wife and two children joined him in America, Wanyama began to write articles for a popular Kenyan newspaper criticizing the government and praising primary opposition leader Raila Odinga, who lost a bid for the presidency last summer in an election that also erupted in violent clashes over accusations of election fraud.

Later Wanyama applied for asylum, claiming the Kenyan government had retaliated against his family members in Kenya, harassing his mother about his whereabouts and firing his brother from his job in a public development corporation. In 2009, an immigration judge ruled that although Wanyama had reason to have feared persecution, what he suffered really wasn't as bad as what other refugees experienced. (Prior court rulings had found that isolated attacks on family members isn't always enough to admit an asylum applicant, if he himself hasn't been sufficiently tortured.)

His asylum application officially denied in 2012, Wanyama was marked for possible removal and ordered to check in with ICE every 1-3 months. He's never missed a visit, and ICE has never tried to actually deport him. Under the Obama Administration, the agency's orders were to focus on deporting felons. Wanyama has no criminal record.

But in January, Trump signed an executive order that allows ICE to deport anyone without legal residency status, regardless of criminal history. Wanyama's friends and colleagues at Augsburg fear that he will be arrested when he checks in with ICE on Friday, so they and academics across Minnesota plan to demonstrate at the ICE office at 1 Federal Drive, #1640 in St. Paul at noon.

"I think he was targeted because the climate is changing, and because they're going after people who are rooted in the community," says Professor Sarah Combellick-Bidney. "They're sending signals that our communities are hostile to immigrants by taking people who are a part of our fabric."