Saturday, June 19, 2010

'Did You Write a Letter to President Obama?'

Woman makes impassioned plea to Dear Leader, hilarity ensues.

Where are your papers?
The letter appealing to President Obama was written in frustration in January, by a woman who saw her family reflected in his. She was a white United States citizen married to an African man, and the couple — college-educated professionals in Manhattan — were stymied in their long legal battle to keep him in the country.

Could the president help, asked the woman, Caroline Jamieson, a marketing executive. She described the impasse that confronted her husband, Hervé Fonkou Takoulo, a citizen of Cameroon with an outstanding deportation order from a failed bid for asylum.

The response came on June 3, when two immigration agents stopped Mr. Takoulo, 34, in front of the couple’s East Village apartment building. He says one agent asked him, “Did you write a letter to President Obama?”

When he acknowledged that his wife had, he was handcuffed and sent to an immigration jail in New Jersey for deportation.

But on Thursday night, Mr. Takoulo was just as suddenly released, after Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials had been questioned about the case by The New York Times.

Officials said they were investigating how the letter — one of thousands routinely referred to the agency by the White House to gather information for a reply — had been improperly used by the agency’s “fugitive operations” unit to find and arrest Mr. Takoulo, who has an engineering degree and no criminal record.

While Mr. Takoulo is still subject to the deportation order, immigration officials acknowledged that their actions in the case seemed to violate their standard practice of not using letters seeking help from elected officials as investigative leads. The handling of the case also conflicted with the Obama administration’s stated policy of arresting deportable immigrants only if they have criminal records.
Jamieson, naturally, is ashamed of her country.
“I’ve been feeling very confused and ashamed as an American citizen,” she said, evoking her family’s eclectic immigrant origins.

Her father, an emeritus professor of East Asian languages and cultures at the University of California, Berkeley, is the son of Scottish immigrants; her mother’s family were refugees from North Korea; her stepmother is Chinese; and her sister’s husband is Egyptian.

All experienced some immigration problems, she said, but “the idea that in the year 2010 I and my family are having the worst and the most barbaric experience — it’s just shameful to me.”

Ms. Jamieson recalled that she cried when Mr. Obama said during a 2008 campaign speech, “With a mother from Kansas and a father from Kenya — ”

“I said, ‘Oh, HervĂ©, even the alliteration is right — with a mother from California and a father from Cameroon, our child could do the same!’ ”
Another dream of change crushed.

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