Paperwork Technicality May Send Gay Immigrant Back to Senegal

Michel Mendy

A gay man may soon be deported to his country of origin where homosexuality is a crime, all thanks to a small paperwork technicality. Michel Mendy, an artist who came from Senegal to America on a performance visa, faces imminent removal because he has been charged with not informing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of an address change.

In 2010, Mendy was shot as a bystander during a robbery. When he woke up in the hospital police officers approached Mendy not about being the victim of a robbery, but were curious instead about his immigration status. Mendy was detained for overstaying his performance visa, but then released only after posting bail. For the past three months, Mendy has been held in an ICE detention center for failing to update his address change, which according to ICE’s draconian actions, is a violation serious enough to warrant deportation. Although ICE had visited Mendy at his new residence, the government branch claims that Mendy never informed them about his address change. Mendy did however notify the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) about his address change.

Under the threat of deportation, Mendy is assured to face assault or even death since homosexuality is illegal in Senegal. Even without evidence, a gay man can be sentenced to as many as eight years in prison for having sex. He can also be fired from his job. Under current law Mendy could qualify for asylum, but the immigration system has instead relegated him into legal limbo.

A rally to protest his removal will be held on Monday at the Detroit ICE detention center where Mendy is held.

Mendy is not a criminal, but a low-priority case according to a 2011 “prosecutorial discretion” memo released by ICE Director John Morton prior to Mendy’s 2013 apprehension. If Mendy is deported, that does not comport with ICE’s message of focusing on high-priority cases, which it has repeatedly ignored even after its hyped-up assurance that low-priority cases will be handled without the fear of deportation.

Unfortunately without the help of activists, Michel Mendy is just one of the many low-priority individuals for whom the fear of deportation has not been lifted.