Statement from Mzenga & Mary
Since the matter of our immigration status has become a topic of public interest, many of you have reached out to us with words of encouragement and support and love. We would like all of you to know how profoundly grateful we are for this outpouring of support and care. We hope, most of all, that our simple words, “thank you,” will convey the actual depth of our gratitude. We say this because we know that words we use to express gratitude are deployed so frequently and in all kinds of formal and informal spheres of human contact that they are mostly inadequate when enlisted to convey gratitude that is deep and heartfelt.
We are aware that there are contrary voices out there, voices of people who do not necessarily think that our cause deserves the support it is receiving from the community and from our friends. We understand those voices, acknowledge their right to be heard, and welcome their participation in the discussion. But we strongly identify with the voices of our supporters. We have made our lives here, raised our kids here, and strongly wish to continue living and contributing to our community here in the U.S. unless it somehow becomes clear that a change in the situation is not only desirable but inevitable.
We have lived in the US for a cumulative period of over 25 years. We came to this country with our two sons on the J-Visa’s exchange program so Mzenga could pursue his graduate studies in English at Howard University in Washington, DC and at the University of Minnesota. In October 1998, our youngest, son, Seryozha, was born in Minneapolis, MN.
Mzenga’s education program was funded partly with a Fulbright Fellowship, administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE), and partly by a University of Minnesota Teaching Assistantship. After completing his graduate studies in 2002, Mzenga spent the subsequent three years teaching at St Cloud State University as permitted by a provision of the J-Visa. After that period, having compelling reasons, we concurrently applied for a waiver of the two-year home residency requirement under our exchange visitor, J-Visa, and for asylum. The J-1 two-year home residency requirement mandates a J-1 recipient to return to his or her home country for at least two years before he or she can come back to the U.S. in a different non-immigrant status or before he or she can apply for permanent residence. Because of the two-year home residency requirement, we are prohibited from simply applying for a different work visa or for permanent residence. Moreover, there is absolutely no way for us to apply for U.S. citizenship until we resolve the J visa issue. In certain circumstances, the U.S. government will waive the two-year home residency requirement. Thus, as noted above, we applied for a waiver and for asylum, and after a long and protracted process that involved several administrative agencies, the Immigration Court, the Board of Immigration Appeals and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, our waiver and asylum applications were denied. Since the denial of our applications, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been exercising its prosecutorial discretion and has temporarily stayed our family’s removal from the U.S. As a condition of this grant of prosecutorial discretion, we are required to check-in with ICE on a routine basis. We have, meanwhile, lawfully sought and received renewable Employment Authorizations from the government, and, consequently, we have each held gainful employment for all the time we have lived in this country.
In 2006, Mzenga obtained a faculty position in the English department at Augsburg University where he received tenure in 2015. Mary, who brought to the US a Master’s Degree in Biology and 10 years of high school and college teaching experience, went to nursing school instead. Initially earning her LPN and Associate RN Degrees, she is in the process of completing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Degree at Augsburg University. Mary works at Regions Hospital in St Paul. Our two Kenyan born children have been able to apply for DACA and are thus temporarily protected from removal. With their DACA authorization, one has been able to get married and pursue his graduate education and the other has been able to find a steady full-time job. Our U.S. citizen child is now studying at the University of Minnesota. We are fearful about what could happen to him, if we were forced to return to Kenya.
Against this brief backdrop, we feel the necessity to address the one question we think might be on the minds of many, including some of our supporters, neighbors, colleagues, and fellow worshippers: and this is the question of whether, in fact, we are, in some form or other, outlaws. Happily, the answer to that question is a definite No! Without getting into the legal minutiae of our situation (our attorneys are handling that part as best they know how!) we wish to underscore the fact that, while living here, our daily operations have been within the parameters of the U.S. immigration law and of the regulations set by the relevant government agencies for people in our situation. We have been consistently responsive to all the demands of our particular immigration status and allowed the Government to easily maintain strict tabs on us. Our attorneys will continue to pursue all available options for relief for us and we greatly appreciate all the suggestions and offers of assistance from the community. We do wish to highlight the fact that we fear returning to Kenya because of the political situation back home. In the different applications for relief that we have made, we have tried to demonstrate that fact to the US. Government. Last year, Mzenga’s mother was murdered in the town where Mzenga grew up. We hope the immigration officials will take this tragedy into account when reviewing our cases.
Finally, we believe that, in spite of the challenges we have faced in this quest, a clear and unequivocal solution to our situation will emerge at the conclusion of this process. We also hope that by sharing our story here, it will shed some light on the current immigration enforcement policies that are hurting not just our family but so many others across this country.
Thank you again for your prayers and for everything else that you’re doing to help bring our hopes to fruition. Thank you.