Rebecca Fatty trailed a little behind her husband’s legal team as they walked briskly out of the courtroom at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
She hung back as the lawyers told the crowd that Bangally Fatty, her husband who had been detained since September, would not receive bond on Wednesday. U.S. immigration court judge Theresa Scala ruled she could not release Fatty due to jurisdictional issues.
He would not be coming home. Rebecca Fatty clutched their infant daughter, Sunkaruh, and the tears fell.
Bangally Fatty, originally from the Republic of The Gambia, is an undergraduate student at the University of Washington. He was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement while driving to work in September. His wife and his university rallied to his aid.
His supporters say that Fatty’s case is the first time the UW community has been aware that a student has faced deportation proceedings.
“This is our first time standing up for our immigrant students as the University of Washington community,” said one of his professors, Angelina Godoy of the Jackson School of International Studies. “It’s not going to be the last time and it’s on all of us.”
One Wednesday various members of the UW faculty, student body and other community members met at NWDC to support Fatty and his family during bond hearing.
Fatty’s support had paid off. He had been waiting for the hearing for two months, a relatively short amount of time for detainees to wait. Supporters say the shortened wait time was a result of his community support and his legal representation.
According to Angelica Chazaro, immigration lawyer and UW law professor, nearly 90 percent of detainees do not have access to lawyers. This is because immigration proceedings are civil law and, unlike those accused of crimes, people in immigration hearings are not guaranteed access to a lawyer.
Not only did Fatty have a lawyer in Chris Strawn, director of the UW Immigration law clinic, and he had the support of UW staff, faculty and his fellow students behind him.
Godoy spearheaded the movement to help Fatty. Godoy, in addition to being one of his professors, is the director of the UW Center for Human Rights.
Fatty arrived in the U.S. more than 15 years ago, according to a petition circulated around UW that has amassed over 1,200 signatures from faculty and students.
He became a victim of labor trafficking in Pennsylvania, and he was arrested in 2011 on suspicion of transporting marijuana, according to KUOW.
A judge at the time ruled that he would be deported to his home country, but The Gambia was not accepting deportees from other countries. The country changed its policy this year.
However, because Fatty was a victim of trafficking, his lawyers say he qualifies for a ‘T’ Visa which would permit him to stay in the United States. He has applied for that visa.
In the years since his arrest, Fatty got married, had a child and enrolled at the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies.
The students who created the petition lobbied the court on Wednesday asking for Fatty’s release while the T Visa decision is processed, Chazaro said.
“The judge is supposed to consider whether he is a flight risk or a danger to the community,” Chazaro explained. “We’re all here to say he’s not a flight risk, he qualifies to stay here, and he’s not a danger to the community and that’s why it’s so important for all of us to show up here today.”
Many UW student organizations came out to support Fatty and 43 organizations signed a statement in support of him.
Movimiento Estudiantl Chicano/a de Aztlan de UW was one organization that had many members out in support. Several were writing letters directly to Fatty, to provide emotional support.
Before the hearing, some of the supporters were pessimistic that the judge would issue bond, because denying bond has become common practice as of late, Chazaro said.
aAmong the criticisms of the NWDC, activists point out that the private for-profit prison receives payment from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement — $126 per detainee.
When the news broke that Fatty had not received bail the crowd was muted. The energy and the chants that had enlivened everyone before were gone.
However, Chris Strawn, Fatty’s lawyer was not deterred. The issue now moves to the federal level where Strawn and company will lobby ICE directly.
“We’ll keep the pressure on and take this to ICE,” Strawn said.
The UW students were quickly whisked away back to the bus they had arrived on, leaving Fatty’s legal team and his wife, Rebecca, to deal with the aftermath of the loss.
Her lip trembled as she wiped at her eyes with one hand, the other supporting her 4-month-old daughter.
“We’re disappointed,” she said, voice cracking, “but we’re getting through. We’re hopeful.”
From afar, the students began chanting again: “Free Bangally,” they yelled rhythmically.
Through the tears, Rebecca Fatty smiled.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled the last names of Chris Strawn and Angelica Chazaro.