Ten days ago Utah residents, Ahmed and Emma, showed up to a routine ICE appointment, were detained by its officers, booked separately in the Cache County Jail and are now expecting their escorted deportation back to Kenya to take place this Monday. Community and religious leaders alike gathered at the Medina Mosque in Salt Lake City, where Ahmed prayed every Friday, for a press conference today in an effort to shed light on the couple’s ordeal.
With the couple in jail, specific details about what led to their detainment have been left unclear. However it is known the couple, originally from Kenya, applied for asylum status in the United States and have been living as members of Utah’s community for the past 11 years. Ahmed’s employment at Delta Airlines demonstrates his legal permission to work in the US. The couple have a son who was also detained but released due to his university student status.
Richard Anzures, Ahmed’s co-worker, said “the important thing is to find out why this is happening” as the ambiguity of the first ICE detainment in Utah has left many in the Muslim community feeling terrorized by these procedures enacted by the Trump administration. Those targeted are even afraid to send their children to school, said Aden Batar of Catholic Community Services. Batar wonders, “is this the beginning?” A fear which was also echoed by Reverend Patty Willis of the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society when she said, “let us not have this be the beginning of something we look back on, as we look back on World War II and thought ‘why didn’t we stand with the Jews?!’”
Immigration lawyer James McConkie said the reason asylum seekers most often get detained is because years after arriving in the US, the required paperwork has not been completed due to language barriers and lack of legal advice or knowledge. McConkie said, “in this climate it’s not difficult for the government to find some technicality to go after people instead of extending them the hand of fellowship and helping them integrate. They’ll find excuses to exclude them.”
Ahmed and Emma’s detainment has become yet another reason for Muslims in the United States to foster fear. Imam Yussef Biwiki of the Medina Mosque hopes to counter the discrimination his fellow Muslims receives and said, “We came here as refugees, we have some kind of goals to achieve and we became citizens… Some of us are crying because we love America and we want to be here.” He expressed his sorrow for the couple and for the danger his community members may face in the coming days.
Still, activists and leaders in the movement for refugee and immigrant rights remain determined to make sure this is an isolated incident. McConkie said he wants to go to mosques and talk to members about their rights, and make sure they are filling out the required paperwork. Batar spoke of workshops for those affected by the new procedures, including the travel ban, to address how this population can move forward safely.
In the days leading up to Ahmed and Emma’s scheduled deportation, Biwiki begs the community to show support, and said “whatever example we set today, we will be living with that… We can make a difference. This is how America is.” Biwiki holds onto the hope of seeing his friend Ahmed at next Friday’s prayer while attorneys continue to work tirelessly for the couple’s release.