Part 6 — The Saga Is Over

If you’re just coming to this story, here are the links to the earlier posts:

Part 1: The Saga Begins

Part 2: So Close and Yet So Far

Part 3: Moving the Money

Part 4: Human Trafficking?

Part 5: The Saga Continues

The previous five parts of this story were first drafted a few years ago, pulled from the correspondence I had with Ari on WhatsApp, then tucked away, waiting for an ending.

Ari got to Nigeria. We stayed in touch through WhatsAPP, not nearly as regularly as it had been, but enough. We exchanged videos. I wrote also to his wife, Eunice, in Cameroon, learning more of their daughter, Angie. I also wrote to Ella, the woman who fled Cameroon with Ari.

Once in Nigeria, Ari found a series of manual labor jobs that kept a roof over his head and food in his stomach. But he missed his family and each time we spoke he sounded sadder and sadder. He was, at different times, treated for both malaria and typhoid, which were prevalent. I asked him once how I might get money to him, but he never answered that particular question. Our correspondence slowed, the gaps between becoming longer.

Then, in March 2023, Ari wrote asking if I would be his sponsor, once again. His case had been taken up by the Immigrant Rights Clinic at Texas A&M University School of Law. They used law students and filed briefs on 42 of the Cameroonians deported in the fall and winter of 2020, Ari included. To be considered, he’d need a sponsor. I said “yes,” eagerly, and quickly got off the needed documents.

To sponsor, one need only prove US citizenship,
address, and income 125% above the poverty level. One
also promises that the asylum seeker will show up in court.

The plan was, I was told when I contacted the law student assigned to Ari, to get ICE to agree they had made a mistake and fly the deportees back to the States, where each of them would have a sponsor to support and house them until their case was adjudicated. The hope was that ICE would rather do that than deal with the 42 civil suits about to be filed against them.

Once that was settled, I pulled out the drafts and began organizing them for publication. With this good news I hoped perhaps I would be able to use his real name. Wouldn’t that have been grand?

Now, February 2024, nearly a year later, the law student I was in touch with has moved on and when I open the website for the Immigration Rights Clinic, I see the headline, The Immigrant Rights Clinic will not be offered in 2023-2024. They’ve not returned my email queries either.

Worse, it’s been a few months since I last heard from Ari. Eunice and Ella report the same. I can only guess what’s happened. And I don’t want to.

While I’m unable to end this series on the positive note I’d hoped for, there are lessons to be learned from this relationship I had for awhile. I want to share some of them. Perhaps in that small way, Ari will have left the legacy he so wanted.

The immigration story we hear of through the media keeps a dangerous and outdated myth alive. It is simply no longer true that the majority of migrants are forging the river and melding into our country unacknowledged. That might have been true a few decades ago. But lately, and as Fareed Zakaria recently admitted (see for his Feb 18 show), the vast majority of asylum seekers seek out customs officials as soon as possible; they want that initial interview; they want to apply, legally, for asylum; they want to live here openly, in peace, and (expectantly, the great American myth is alive and well) in prosperity.

What they rarely understand is just how long this will take. Joffrey, the first sponsee to live with us, arrived in July, 2020, with an expected “Calendar Hearing” set for October of 2022. That date was moved to March, 2024. And that’s just the hearing to put his case on the calendar. His “merit hearing” may well be another two years.

The problem with US immigration is the law itself, Fareed says. Migrants can enter the country, claim asylum, and remain while their cases are adjudicated by backlogged courts. By raising the bar for asylum claims, and by allowing the president to deny entry to migrants if border apprehensions hit certain numbers, the bill would have begun to address the heart of the problem, Fareed says. What’s more, Fareed argues, Republican criticism of the bill appeared to be disingenuous, as some GOP lawmakers reversed their previous views on whether US immigration law needs to change.

Fareed’s Global Briefing ( February 11, 2024

The compromise bill that’s been at the top of the news recently was just that: a compromise. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a step in the right direction. The asylum seekers I’ve supported over the years all had a life threatening impetus to flee. With only one exception, all were victims of torture. Without exception, they came because to stay in their country was life threatening — the very essence of our asylum process. It’s what the United States has promised the world for generations.

I’m not going to get into immigration laws. The only lesson there is that they change far too frequently.

This was not a cause I took on from any sense of altruism. It may seem like that on the surface but, rationally speaking, it’s been rather selfish of me. I believe that to have diversity in my life is enriching. That’s first. Secondly, the region of Vermont I live in is suffering economically. Too many local sons and daughters have moved away, leaving us with a critical labor shortage.

When we were offered the opportunity to create an organization that could attract permanent immigrants to our Northeast Kingdom, I jumped at it. At that time it was Syrians who dominated the asylum news. I remember stating (only partially tongue-in-cheek) how nice it’d be to have “a strong, young Syrian to run our snow blower.”

But it was Africans who graced our life. Our first one, Joffrey, installed three storm doors by the time he left us and kept our wood rack filled each winter. And so much more. I’ll never forget the care he took to put my socks on me when those kidney stones sent me to the hospital.

It’s always been a two way street for me: Woody and I provide food, shelter, a chance to practice a new language, doctor and dental care as needed, and a warm embrace (well, metaphorically speaking, as most Africans see hugging as romantic only), while they help us as they can. I like to think it worked well for all concerned. As Joffrey got better with the language, learned a skill and got a permanent job, he was able to move into his own apartment. He is still waiting for his court hearing though. This March he will have his Calendar hearing, where the judge puts his Merit Hearing on the calendar. Yes, it’s an unbelievably lengthy process. And, I’m pleased to report that his boss has told me he’d have had to close his business had Joffrey not appeared when he did, and been such a quick learner and hard worker.

In January, I shared this meme in a post entitled Choosing Our Friends.

I was feeling rather down when I posted that, feeling a bit sorry for myself that I lived in such an isolated part of the country. And very tired from other things going on in my life at the time. (When the time is right, I’ll write more of that.)

I remind myself daily that there is much to celebrate in this life of mine. And the experience I had of literally saving a young man’s life, at least for awhile, is one I am grateful for. I learned a great deal in the process, and not just about palm oil.

I urge you to get involved as you can. Visit the American Immigration Council website if immigration is of interest. Send them your questions at They keep up with all the changes.

I thank you for staying with this series. I know I lost a few subscribers over these many weeks. I’m grateful for those who stayed.

Finally, please be careful what you see and hear from our media. At least listen for their biases and assumptions, which are, sadly, becoming more and more obvious. I’m not saying no one should have biases; we all have them. The trick is to be aware of them, and understand they are learned — and can be unlearned if wanted.

NEXT MONTH: President Biden’s Stutter

5 Responses

  1. Carolyn
    | Reply

    Such a sad story but at least you tried which is more than most would do. This world becomes more and more confusing and cruel it seems

  2. Darlene Foster
    | Reply

    Thank you for sharing this story. Bravo to you for doing what you could for him. I can only hope your assumptions are wrong and you will eventually hear from Ari. I know you will let us know if that happens.
    Darlene Foster recently posted…There Be Elephants!My Profile

  3. Tim
    | Reply

    Janet, thank you for sharing Ari’s story. It shows both the humanity of those forced to flee their homes and the inhumanity of attitudes and systems that reject them. I’ll keep a small candle of hope alive that his story is not yet finished.

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