DREAM activist facing deportation speaks out on MLK Day

Attendees of 30th Annual MLK Jr. Day march in Seattle at Garfield HS. Photo by Flickr user cactusbones

Update 1/19: An Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agency spokeswoman has given this statement to the Globalist:

“At this time, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is reviewing Mr. Okere’s case to determine the appropriate next steps.”

This means, she clarified, that ICE has not decided to deport Okere as of yet.

Around 1000 people gathered in Garfield High School’s gymnasium on Monday to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., before marching across Capitol Hill in the thick of the snow.

King’s clarion call for equality and justice rings as strong today as it did in 1968, around the world and here at home.

In 1991, Nigerian journalist Nwogu Okere was killed for exposing corruption in his country. While King was shot and killed as he exited a hotel room, police gunned down Okere as he stepped out of his car.

The US State Department called it an “extrajudicial killing.” His wife ran away, carrying their one-year-old son.

That child, Al Okere, is now a 21-year-old Seattle-area pre-med student. He took to the stage at Garfield during the MLK rally.

Speaking softly as he leaned over the mic, he calmly told the story of his murdered father and his deported mother.

Now Okere is facing deportation to Nigeria as well. “If they send me there, my life’s threatened,” he told the crowd. He says his mother is in hiding. He tells his story in this video:

In an interview with the Globalist, Okere said if he doesn’t present travel documents to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) by Wednesday, “they could detain and deport me any time.”

“I’m terrified about going back to Nigeria. I’d either be killed or I’ll have to live in hiding like my mom,” Okere said. “My entire life is here. It would be like the end of my life.”

Okere was brought to the United States at age 5 by his mother on a tourist visa.  He says their asylum case was denied because poor legal representation caused them to miss a court-appointed meeting.

(The Globalist has asked ICE to comment on Okere’s case. A spokesperson said the agency will release a statement Tuesday.)

For years Okere been advocating for the DREAM Act, which would provide undocumented young people the chance to go to school or join the military and obtain citizenship.

“The DREAM act means everything to me. It’s for people in my situation. It’s about people who’ve been here, who never committed a crime,” he said.

Carolyn Thurston, the director of the Student Transitions and Academic Resources program at Central Washington University, calls Okere a “pretty remarkable” student. She said he maintains a 4.0 grade point average. “He’s an amazing student who has worked very hard.”

Her program is for students who are “not admissible, for one reason or another. They don’t look good on paper.” Okere has been ineligible for financial aid because of his non-citizenship, Thurston says. His family has had to pay all of the rising tuition costs.

“I’m concerned that they have been separated for all these years,” Thurston told the Globalist, referring to Okere and his mother, Rosemary. “I also think of what kind of life he’ll have he can’t complete his education, after he’s come so far.”

She called the prospect of his deportation “outrageous.”

Okere says, he “absolutely” thought he was going to be detained and deported before he spoke during the Martin Luther King day rally on Monday.

“But I’m more hopeful now,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting a lot of support. It’s a better situation than it was a couple of days ago.”

He likened his father to Martin Luther King Jr.: “He spoke from the heart and was trying to stand up for justice.”

Now, he wants people to “keep their minds open and help – not just for me, but for others who are in situations like mine…It’s not right to just deport people, to end their whole lives as they know it in America.”

This post initially misstated Okere’s age as 19 and the year his father was killed as 1992. Thanks to commenter Tim!

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