Decision on Professor Wanyama brings relief, tension to campus

Christa Kelly, Contributor

After a tumultuous year of a high-profile immigration status review, Mzenga Wanyama, a longtime professor and advisor at Augsburg University, has been given a stay of deportation of indeterminate length by the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE). A dispute that began in March of this year after Wanyama was given 90 days to self deport has remained a story on campus and around the broader immigration discussion in Minnesota.

After receiving widespread campus support from students who organized rallies outside of his hearing locations and catching the attention of politicians from Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey to Senator Amy Klobuchar, Professor Wanyama has, for now, a temporary break from the dispute.

    The issue, concerning Wanyama’s expired visa from 2005 and subsequent application for asylum after writing articles critical of the Kenyan government, sat for years in limbo. After the application for asylum was denied in 2012, Wanyama has been complying with regular check-ins at the St. Paul ICE facility. The sudden shift in the case priority came 26 years after Wanyama began his life in the Midwest.

     Despite the lack of a pressing timeline, the issue is hardly over. Sarah Combellick-Bidney, a close friend of Wanyama’s and a political science professor, explained to students how lengthy, uncertain and often unfair the immigration process can be. She told students that, though the deportation process has been stalled, the threat of detainment is still a very real and frightening possibility. If Wanyama is considered for asylum, the court case will last for at least two years. If ICE chooses not to consider Wanyama and his wife’s asylum request, he will self-deport to Namibia where he will continue to work for Augsburg on a satellite campus. Wanyama himself was not able to be reached for comment on the issue.

     Wanyama’s legal battle has shaken the tight-knit Augsburg community. Students and teachers alike remain upset and confused at the prospect of losing such a valued faculty member. Rob Jewell, freshman, hopes Wanyama will be able to continue teaching his classes. He says that Wanyama is “rich in teaching style, personality and culture. He is knowledgeable about everything we could have asked for.” Panou Yang, also a freshman, hopes Wanyama will be able to stay. She had the opportunity of having Wanyama co-teach one of her honors courses. In his introduction to the class, he explained that his first name, Mzenga, means “messenger.” Her class commented on how fitting it was that he became a teacher. A status that, for the moment, is here to stay.

This article first appeared in the Friday, September 21 edition of The Echo.