ST. PAUL, Minn. – A Minnesota college professor facing deportation to Kenya said Thursday that immigration officials have given him 90 days to show he has a path to regain his legal status or else leave the country.
Augsburg University professor Mzenga Wanyama spoke to supporters who rallied in front of the Fort Snelling office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, where Wanyama checked in with immigration officials.
"I am still hopeful despite of what they told us in there," Wanyama told his supporters. "The only reason I am hopeful is because you're here."
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton wrote a letter this week asking ICE acting director Thomas Homan not to deport Wanyama. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called ICE on Wanyama's behalf earlier this week and joined the rally.
Wanyama came to the U.S. from Kenya in 1992 on a student visa and legally entered the country on non-immigrant visas several times between 1992 and 2005. ICE says he currently does not have legal status in the U.S. since he has overstayed his last legal entry by several years. Two administrative courts rejected his attempts to stay in the country but allowed him to leave without penalty if he chose to, and in November 2012 the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a petition to review his case, making him automatically subject to deportation.
He was denied asylum after his visa expired, but accepted a deal that required him to report to ICE on a regular basis. He's been checking in with the agency since 2012. At a check-in last month, Wanyama and his wife, Mary, who is a nurse, were told to start making plans to leave the country.
Wanyama's attorney, Katheryn Wasylik, is working on an application to reopen his case based on conditions in Kenya, the Star Tribune reported . Wanyama fears his political views might endanger him if he is deported to Kenya.
In his letter to the ICE head, Dayton called Wanyama "a great asset to Minnesota" and said deporting him would be "a terrible loss to the hundreds of students he influences" and also to his family and friends. Dayton also pointed out that Wanyama does not have a criminal record.
"Not only does he pose no threat to this country, but he is also an outstanding contributor to our state," Dayton wrote.
Wanyama has taught literature at Augsburg, where he is an associate professor, for more than a decade. Augsburg President Paul Pribbenow said the school is chipping in for Wanyama's immigration expenses and supports his effort to remain in the country fully.
ICE has said it intends to carry out the court order.
Corrects 'Augsburg College' to 'Augsburg University.'