African asylum seeker granted emergency stay from deportation

SAN DIEGO -- Constantin Bakala, an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of Congo who fears death if he is forced to return to his home country, has been granted an emergency stay from deportation.

The stay means he will remain in the US as a motion to reopen his case makes it way through the courts, a news release from supporters said. ICE officials confirmed the recent development, saying that the stay will prevent Bakala's immediate removal "but does not overturn the underlying court decisions" that previously ruled in favor of the Congolese national's deportation.

"My children and I have hope that we will be together with Constantin again and hope the community will continue to stand by our side," Annie Bakala, Constantin's wife, said in the release. "We are grateful to everyone who has supported our family as we work to create a better life for our kids here in San Diego and pray for Constantin’s safety.”

“We are grateful for the growing community of support for the Bakala family, including Rep. Vargas and Sen. Harris, who stood with Constantin’s family during these trying times," said Colin Mathewson, a pastor and activist who has been assisting the family. "Now is a time to celebrate, then reflect on where we go from here."

The announcement came after family members and supporters held an impassioned rally outside the ICE offices downtown Thursday.

The family said they fled their home country because of political persecution. In 2017, the family tried to enter the US through the San Ysidro Port of Entry after a treacherous journey from Brazil up through South and Central America. They were separated, with Bakala sent to an immigration detention center in Georgia while the rest of his family was released in the San Diego area, where they've stayed.

According to faith leaders accompanying the family, Bakala represented himself in court for lack of money and resources, and is not fluent in English. He was denied asylum by a judge.

Mathewson is a pastor at St. Luke's Episcopal church in North Park. He said Thursday that the church found an attorney for Bakala and is hoping to reopen his case.

"We fear that if Constantin is deported, he will be murdered," Mathewson said. "So this is a matter of life or death for us."

On Friday, an ICE spokesperson responded to an earlier request for comment on the case. They said Bakala received "extensive due process" and that his requests were unsuccessful after his claim was considered multiple times. They also shared the following statement:

“Congolese national Constantin Bakala was initially encountered Nov. 5, 2017, by U.S. Customs and Border Protection while seeking to enter the U.S. in San Ysidro, Calif. He was then transferred into ICE custody Nov. 7. Mr. Bakala has received all appropriate legal process under federal law, to include multiple appeals, and he has no lawful basis to remain in the U.S.

Mr. Bakala was ordered removed from the U.S. by a federal immigration judge in April 2018, and two appeals of that order were subsequently denied by the courts in October 2018 and again in February 2019. He is presently in ICE custody while awaiting removal to his country of citizenship in accordance with federal law and the order of the courts.”

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