Transy student fears deportation back to Sudan

Members of Lino Nakwa’s village were gathering for prayer when the rebels came and took him from his family. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army took Nakwa, then 12, and his brother, trained them to fight with sticks and forced them to work in the rebel group’s camp.

The training Nakwa received as a boy is now affecting his steps toward obtaining U.S. citizenship: His application for a green card has been denied because of the “military-type training” the SPLA forced him to undergo.

“It was the reason I fled my country,” Nakwa said. “It was the reason I came here, and now that same information is being used to take me back.”

Now, because of his refugee status, he could be deported at any time.

Nakwa, a senior at Transylvania University, received a letter from the Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services denying him citizenship in late February. Although the letter said he and his brother were forced to receive the “military-type training,” it also said denial of his green card cannot be appealed.

Returning to Sudan is a frightening thought for Nakwa: He is scared of being killed for being a Christian if he is deported.

“The fact that I stand no chance for appeal fills me with fear,” Nakwa said.

A representative for Citizenship and Immigration Services said he could not comment on specific cases.

The Department of Homeland Security changed its policy in March and said the status of immigrants like Nakwa would be reconsidered. Nakwa’s lawyer filed an appeal this week, but a decision may not come for months.

Several weeks ago, students and faculty at Transylvania began a campaign to keep one of their own in the United States.

“He’s a total victim of terror. He’s not a terrorist,” said Transylvania senior Neil Barry, a friend of Nakwa’s who has helped organize the campaign. “He’s the kind of guy you’d want your sister to date. The way this country’s treated him is horrible.”

The militaristic training Nakwa received in Sudan in 1991 was during the Second Sudanese Civil War, which lasted between 1983 and 2003. Government troops systematically attacked Sudanese villages. More than 2 million people were killed, including Nakwa’s father.

After a month as a captive of the SPLA, Nakwa and his older brother decided to flee. It was dangerous — a group of boys tried to escape the day earlier and were killed — but the two decided it was worth the risk.

“It was just one of those things where you say, ‘Whatever happens to me happens,’ ” he said.

Nakwa and his brother fled through the jungle for two days without food or water, in constant fear the SPLA would follow and kill them. They reached Kenya, but it was two weeks before Nakwa could find a steady source of food.

Nakwa was reunited with his four other siblings in 1998, which he calls one of the happiest moments of his life. With the support of Kenyan nuns, Nakwa applied to go to the United States as a refugee.

“I thought, finally. We’re coming here, we’re moving on with our lives,” Nakwa said. “We can come to the U.S. The U.S. is a peaceful country.”

Nakwa arrived in Louisville in 2003 with his four teenage brothers and sisters. At 24, Nakwa spoke little English, and he had never held a job before. But he worked at UPS to support his family while attending Jefferson Community College.

“It’s changed my life,” he said. “It’s changed the way I see things. It made me forget about myself and think about them.”

He graduated from Jefferson Community College with an associate’s degree and left Louisville, continuing his studies at Transylvania University.

Now, Nakwa is set to graduate in May, but he doesn’t know if he will be forced to go back to his country.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “They regard me as being related to this terrorist organization. They could take me away at any time.”

Nakwa, his lawyer and members of the Transylvania community said they will continue to fight the decision. They have mailed congressmen, state officials and the media to build support.

Anyone wanting to write a letter on Nakwa’s behalf should send it to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, P.O. Box 82521, Lincoln, Neb., 68501-2521. Nakwa’s case number is LIN0626050570.