Friday, November 23, 2018

This Shawnee resident is a philanthropist and business owner. Why did ICE arrest him?

Here we are again, arresting even the kind of immigrant that the president says we want to welcome here.

Three years ago, The Star wrote about Gambia-born, Shawnee-based philanthropist Abdoulie Fatajo and his small bike repair and consignment shop, Hy-5 Traders. Fatajo was repairing bikes for next to nothing, donating them to local parents who couldn’t afford to buy them for their children and shipping some of the bikes he repaired back to Gambia. They’re a main method of transportation there and are prohibitively expensive.

Oh no, what a terrorist this Fatajo is, said no one.

On the contrary, after the story ran, his business expanded to the point that he now employs several dozen people and ships not just bikes but food, clothing and even cars back to Gambia out of several local warehouses.

Yet this same Abdoulie Fatajo — the father of an American son, a man deservedly beloved in the community and a former track star and honors student — has been arrested by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

Since Nov. 9, he’s been held at the Morgan County Detention Center in Versailles, Missouri.

Fatajo, who has been in this country for almost 20 years, came on a student visa to study at Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley. Later, he enrolled at Johnson County Community College.

Like the Bangladesh-born Lawrence chemistry instructor and school board candidate Syed Jamal, who was jailed earlier this year, Fatajo wasn’t in hiding, but had been checking in with immigration officials regularly all this time.

“They put me under orders of supervision,” Fatajo told KCUR in a phone interview from jail. “You go there and they check that you didn’t commit any crimes or you didn’t do anything, and they will let you go, and they will renew your work card. That’s what I have been doing.”

Of course he’s worried now, about his employees and his family both here and there, as he waits to be deported: “Even my employees, most of them, their entire lives depend on this business. And back home, the entire family, their survival is based on this business. I am their only shipper that ships their stuff to Gambia. I am the only one.”

The Trump administration has replaced the previous policy of prioritizing the arrest of those undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes with one in which anyone without a visa can be arrested at any time.

“He’s taken all the discretion away” from ICE agents, many of whom privately decry the shift, too, said local immigration attorney Michael Sharma-Crawford. And “it doesn’t make any sense from a human perspective.”

The arrest of immigrants without criminal convictions were up more than 200 percent in the first 14 months of Trump’s presidency, compared to the last 14 months under “deporter-in-chief” Barack Obama.

That may be one reason that so many fewer foreign students are coming here to study. Since international students typically pay full fare, and had been pumping $39 billion into the U.S. economy every year, that’s a blow to higher education, particularly to the smaller schools that have relied on that money.

Deporting someone like Fatajo is certainly a waste of resources, and an injustice that betrays our values. Let’s hope that as in the case of Jamal, elected officials intervene on Fatajo’s behalf, because we shouldn’t have to lose him to a policy that creates more chaos than it does safety.

Related stories from Kansas City Star

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