Maria Nkata (left), 13, and hopes her Malawi-born sister
Dominique, 21, is able to avoid deportation. / Provided
Malawian mother and father – John and Joan Nkata – granted permanent U.S. residency two years ago, are fighting to keep their family together in United States by appealing a federal immigration judge’s decision to deport two of their three daughters.
Judge Thomas Janas of Cleveland ordered Tapiwa Nkata, 25, and Dominique Nkata, 21, deported to their native Malawi. They were brought from Malawi and have lived legally in the United States since they were ages 4 years and 11 months.
The Nkatas, who came on an education visa in 1990, were granted permanent resident status in January 2009, based on the hardship that their deportation would cause their daughter, Maria, 11 at the time, a U.S. citizen born at Good Samaritan Hospital.
The family had applied for permanent resident status as a whole, but the presiding judge declined to address the daughters’ claims at that time because they had no qualifying relative.
Another immigration judge ruled two weeks ago that the deportation of Tapiwa and Dominique would not, in the words of federal immigration law adopted in 1996, “result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to the alien’s spouse, parent or child who is a citizen of the United States or alien legally admitted for permanent residence.”
Nkata, 50, said the decision to deport their chidlren to Malawi has left him “a helpless father.”
“Somehow, deporting my daughters is not seen as extreme hardship on their parents, let alone their 13-year-old sister,” said Joan Nkata, 47, who works full time in the accounting department of Hydrotech Inc. in West Chester.
The sisters met every condition for permanent resident status: They’d lived continually in this United States for at least 10 years, were of good moral character and had no criminal record.
The decision to deport the sisters goes against an immigration trend nationwide. The US Department of Homeland Security is reviewing thousands of pending deportation cases and moving to dismiss ones filed against immigrants who have no serious criminal records, according to reports in the Miami Herald and the Houston Chronicle.
The Nkata family tried since 2002 to achieve permanent resident status for the four of them and went without a lawyer until 2006. The parents have since declared bankruptcy because of staggering legal bills and expenses related to trying to stay together in the United States.
“We have tried to do everything right,” said John Nkata, who has a plan for the once unthinkable. If his two oldest daughters are deported, he will go with them to Malawi and leave his wife and youngest daughter behind.
“She deserves the same opportunity the other girls had,” he said.
Nkata has worked the same job for many years after completing his studies at Cincinnati Bible College.
Tapiwa and Dominique were honors graduates of Walnut Hills High School.
Tapiwa was a 2007 summa cum laude graduate from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in finance. She moved to Los Angeles to work for an investment firm and has a night job as a comedy club manager.
“I can’t imagine my life in Africa,” she said. “I am an American. I know this culture and speak this language. I pledge allegiance to this flag.”
As he announced his decision, the immigration judge said something to Tapiwa and Dominique that struck Tapiwa as odd. “He said, ‘You ladies are quite lovely. Any country would be happy to have you.’
“Yes, except the United States,” she said later.
Even after the decision was announced, Tapiwa said her mind turned to getting back to work in Los Angeles.
Dominique, a University of Cincinnati senior studying chemistry, works part-time in University Hospital’s emergency department. She plans to become a cardiologist but can’t apply to medical school without permanent resident or citizenship status.
At age 11, she underwent open-heart surgery at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to repair a life-threatening heart condition that requires lifelong follow-up, her doctor wrote.
“As long as she has understood the (immigration) situation, Maria would say to me, ‘It’s going to be all right, right? You’re going to stay, right?’ ” Dominique said. “We were driving home from Cleveland, and we were sobbing. Maria looked at me and said in a meek voice, ‘Dominique, please don’t go.’ ”
Sitting at her family’s dining room table, stacked with immigration documents, Maria said, “I am sad. I love my sisters. My parents told me to keep praying.”
Immigrant children living in limbo often aren’t allowed to get a driver’s license or work when their peers do.
“So many things are hard,” Dominique said, “but we got through them because we always told ourselves, ‘One day, it will be over, and we will be allowed to stay here for good.’ Now, I can’t say that. I don’t know what will happen.”