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ICE keeps Augsburg prof from Kenya in limbo

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Mzenga Wanyama greets supporters Friday.
Mzenga Wanyama greets supporters Friday ahead of a meeting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Fort Snelling.
Riham Feshir | MPR News

An Augsburg University professor from Kenya is safe from deportation for now, after being summoned Friday to discuss plans for his removal from the country.

Mzenga Wanyama, who teaches English, literature and African-American literary history, told about 100 supporters outside Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) headquarters that the officers told him to report back next month and in the meantime, get ready to leave.

"They say make concrete plans for departure, but that gives my attorneys time to explore possibilities," he said. "So it's not really final."

Wanyama has lived in the United States for 26 years. His students at Augsburg say he brings a unique perspective to the department.

In a statement, Augsburg University President Paul Pribbenow said colleagues are relieved Wanyama will continue to teach for now and that he has time to pursue legal options. Pribbenow added that the professor's expertise would be difficult to replace and the school plans to help him figure out a way to remain in the country.

"We support him and intend to vigorously work toward an immigration status that will allow him to stay," he added.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey spoke up to defend Wanyama Friday in a statement that said he'd fight to keep him in the country because his work makes the city and the region better. 

"No President, no federal agency will deport Dr. Wanyama without a fight from me, from our partners in the state and federal delegations, and from the thousands of people in Minneapolis who share our values," Frey said.

Wanyama came to the United States on a student visa in 1992. An immigration judge denied Wanyama asylum after his visa expired. He appealed, but was denied again. Instead, he became part of a large group of asylum seekers nationwide who took a deal that required them to report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement on a regular basis. Wanyama has been checking in with ICE since 2012.

ICE officials say the agency continues to focus its enforcement resources on people who pose a threat to national security and public safety. But it doesn't exempt those who violate immigration laws.

That recent change in practice has made everyone who's here, without permanent legal status, a priority for deportation.

Wanyama's immigration status for the last six years didn't allow him a path toward legal residency or citizenship. He said the only thing he could do was "not become a priority" for deportation and to continue contributing to the community.

"I never really took any other measures to protect myself," he said. "Because at that time it didn't look like I had any other option."

During Friday's meeting, ICE officials took Wanyama's Kenyan passport. He said it's part of the process to make sure all of the documents are in order.