Kenya: We Can Finally Breathe, Kenyans in U.S. Say of Biden Foreign Policy

24 January 2021

News reports early this week that the Trump administration had made a hurried 'dump' of African illegal migrants and other asylum seekers in Nairobi just days before his term came to an end were hardly surprising.

At least not to Kenyan civic leaders and immigration attorneys, among them Henry Ongeri.

"For us who work in immigration, this was expected and we're just grateful that that cruel regime is over," Mr Ongeri said in an interview with Sunday Nation.

Dr Nathan Wangusi, another Kenyan in the US, says Trump's Iimmigration policy "focused primarily on undoing Obama-era concessions to undocumented immigrants.

On January 15, 2021, an airplane filled with US deportees from some African countries touched down at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

It was the Trump administration's last-ditch effort to deport as many African asylum seekers as it could in its last few days before the inauguration of Joe Biden, who had promised a 100-day suspension of deportations, amid allegations of abuse of detainees, insufficient legal protections and inadequate precautions against Covid infection.

The last few months of 2020 saw a rise in deportations of African nationals, despite ongoing political and sectarian violence in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries to which deportees were returned.

Trump-era policies

According to press reports, there were repeated allegations that detainees were forced, sometimes with beatings, into signing documents waiving their rights to further legal hearings. In fact, it's believed that many of the Cameroonians deported on earlier flights remain unaccounted for after their return.

But, if promises are anything to go by, US immigration law and practice would be markedly different under President Biden. During the campaigns, he pledged significant actions to roll back a bulk of the Trump-era policies that made it difficult to be an immigrant in the country.

Mr Biden has also sent to Congress the Citizenship Act 2021 which if the Congress passes into law would grant temporary legal status, permanent legal residence and eventual citizenship to people who were physically in the United States on January 1, 2021.

For Kenyans living in the US without proper legal status, these have been four years of unending nightmare.

"I've lived in fear for the last four years. I could hardly go out to do grocery shopping for fear of being stopped by the police. Every time there's a knock on the door, I'm terrified because I know it could be ICE agents coming for me," said Anthony Mwangi, a Kenyan resident of Salem, South Jersey.

Mr Mwangi, like thousands of other Kenyans living in the US with expired visas, is hopeful that the Biden administration will embark on a reset of the worldview that sees immigration as a national asset rather than a security and cultural threat.

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