Magazine On-line [summer 2008]
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Around the Campus

Transylvania community rallies in support of immigrant student

Living in fear and uncertainty is nothing new for Transylvania junior Lino Nakwa. Since age 12, when he and his brother were kidnapped by rebels in his native Sudan, Nakwa has been fighting for his very existence.

Even now, five years after legally immigrating to the United States, he finds himself waging yet another such battle—to avoid being sent back to the war-torn African nation where he could be killed simply for being a Christian.

Facing deportation over what became a controversial decision by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services, Nakwa recently found that the Transylvania community was more than willing to step forward with a groundswell of support that has caused officials to reopen his case.

This latest struggle began in February when Nakwa received a letter from immigration services turning down his request for a green card, the first step toward his longtime dream to become a U.S. citizen. The reason, the letter stated, was because Nakwa had attended a military-style training camp for the group that kidnapped him—a group now considered a terrorist organization. Despite acknowledging that Nakwa was “forced to attend” the camp, immigration officials denied his request with no chance for appeal.

“It’s frustrating to think that someone could be thinking that I’m related to this terrorist group,” said Nakwa, whose father was reportedly killed by the same organization.

Those at Transylvania who know Nakwa were also frustrated, but even more perplexed that the quiet, unassuming man, now 29, could be considered a threat to American security.

Senior Neil Barry, left, spoke at a phonathon rally in Haupt Plaza held to support his efforts to stay in the United States.

“Lino is somebody you just automatically trust; you can feel his authenticity sort of exuding from every pore in his body,” said philosophy professor Jack Furlong, who taught Nakwa in an introductory philosophy course.

Furlong said Nakwa was a bit reluctant to take a course in philosophy, a subject he knew little about. But it wasn’t long before he excelled.

“What made him so good in philosophy was that a lot of these moral questions that we work through, and metaphysical questions, he had already thought about pretty hard— forced to think about, very likely, because of his circumstances,” Furlong said.

Furlong is just one of many at Transylvania—administrators, faculty, and students alike— who’ve been won over by Nakwa, first by his positive nature and then by his plight. Nakwa is a member of the Student Government Association, and works at two campus jobs to support his education.

“All three arms of the University started holding hands,” Furlong said. “The administration immediately took it (Nakwa’s cause) up, and the students did, and the faculty did. And not quite independently, either. Everybody started to e-mail everybody else about it.”

Getting the word out was just the beginning of the grassroots effort to encourage immigration officials to reopen Nakwa’s case. Many people, including President Charles L. Shearer, participated in a letter-writing campaign that resulted in more than 200 letters on Nakwa’s behalf.

“Lino’s story is compelling, his resilience as a survivor is deeply touching, and his belief against all odds that there can be a better future brings hope that the American Dream is still possible,” Shearer wrote.

A number of people also participated in a telephone campaign to Kentucky’s congressional delegation to solicit support for Nakwa. Among them was Prya Murad, a first-year student who came to America from Pakistan at age two. She was struck by the broader implications of Nakwa’s story.

“It’s really appalling that we have to ask for human rights in a nation that parades the fact internationally that they have these amazing human rights,” said Murad, who took Introduction to Philosophy with Nakwa but never knew he was a refugee. “It’s one of those things that puts it in such perspective where we really stand as a nation and as a global community, that things like this are happening in Lexington, Ky.”

First-year student Justin Morell likewise took Nakwa’s situation to heart and was instrumental in getting others involved.
“When I heard that he was being deported, I was shocked, and when I heard the reason why, I was furious,” Morell said. “Everyone I talked to expressed disgust that someone who had been through so much in his lifetime, and had still been able to accomplish what Lino has, is in danger of being sent to his home country, a sure death sentence.”

All the efforts from the Transylvania “family” have had a major impact, Nakwa said. Indeed, it was not long after the telephone campaign that he was told his case had been reopened for review. (A decision date was undetermined at Transylvania magazine press time.)

“The fact that they are going to review it makes me feel hopeful and positive,” said Nakwa.

The support shown to him since receiving that letter in February is sometimes difficult to comprehend, Nakwa said, but never unappreciated.

“Wherever I’ve been, I’m blessed to meet good people that are caring and willing to support me. That’s one of the things that keeps me positive about my life,” he said.

He is also thankful that he chose to enroll at Transylvania, where in addition to receiving so much support, he’s made lifetime friendships.

“At times, with what’s going on in my case, I keep wondering what if I’d gone to another school. Where would I be right now?” he said.

—Terri McLean

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