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No place like home

It was many immigrants’ worst nightmare: on April 20, 2009, Congolese immigrant Okili Nguebari of Santa Rosa was seized in front of his house by six ICE agents. The agents, acting on a 23-year-old outstanding order of deportation, held Nguebari briefly in San Francisco before relocating him to a detention center in Arizona with no visitation rights. A fundraising effort was quickly organized by Nguebari’s family in May to gain money toward legal costs, and soon a community-wide movement to free Okili followed, with assistance from Congressman Mike Thompson, who made numerous calls to the ICE detention center and directed the flow of letters pressuring for Nguebari’s release.

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Three months after his relocation to a private detention facility in Eloy, Ariz., Nguebari has been discharged and allowed to return to his American-born wife and children in Santa Rosa. For now, it is assumed he was released as a result of his involvement in a 1988 immigration class action suit that currently protects him from deportation.

His homecoming is being celebrated with an African-inspired dinner and dance party, along with additional legal fundraising and appearances by numerous entertainers from all over the county, including Midnight Sun, Olembe Nguebari and Sang Matiz.

Nguebari first came to the United States in 1981 on a student visa from the Republic of Congo. After dropping out due to his inability to pay expenses, thereby violating his student visa, deportation trials dragged on for three years. During that time, Nguebari adjusted to life in American society: he held a steady job, mingled with other Congolese immigrants and met and married his wife, Sabrina Krauss. The couple has been married for 22 years and have two full-grown children together.

The welcoming party is also billed as a time for healing for all those who were hurt by this shocking disruption of a peaceful life. Krauss says she and her husband never intended to flout immigration laws. “A simple letter would have sufficed,” Krauss told the Bohemian in May. “We were never trying to hide from anyone.”

After wading through red tape and sticky immigration laws with the support of an entire community, a celebration is definitely in order. Welcome Okili Nguebari home alongside his family and friends on Friday, Aug. 29, at the Sebastopol Community Center, 390 Morris St., Sebastopol. Doors open at 6:30pm. $20 suggested donation, with drinks and food available for purchase. 707.823.1511.


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