Tag Archives: deportation

Lost in America – 3

Two events happened in 2008 that would directly impact Kenyans in America for worse.

The events were: President Obama was elected the 44th President of USA and the global financial crisis began.

When Obama was elected US president one would have thought this would herald good times for Kenyans in America but that was not to be. President Obama has outdone himself in matters immigration. He is set to deport more folk in one term than President Bush did in two terms.

There is also a growing feeling that with his Kenyan roots he has to be seen to be tougher on Kenyans so as to dispel any thoughts of favoritism.

The other event was the global financial crisis that continues to cause havoc on economies abroad. As a result job cuts and higher cost of living have become the norm.

In this harsh economic climate, the citizens are finding it hard to get through so imagine the fate of an immigrant. The last five years have being pretty tough on guys living in America.

As a result, there was being an increased reverse migration with many folk like T who I spoke of earlier returning home after decades abroad. Obviously they do not say it is because of the harsh economic times. Rather they couch it in terms of a desire to build the motherland with skills acquired abroad or other cock-and-bull stories. I spoke of them here.

However many other folk are languishing in silence in the States. Stories of guys living like chokoras are whispered but never ascertained. After chatting my relative I can honestly say things are bad in America. The menial jobs that Americans could not touch several years back are now unavailable as the retrenched Americans scramble for them. This means the Kenyans are ending up living on the streets or in homeless shelters as they cannot afford rent.

Coupled with these economic hardships is the immigration issue hanging over the heads of the Kenyan immigrants. My relative spoke of guys whose status is ‘illegal’ being swept off the streets and being taken to detention centers where they are processed for deportation. The process is not pretty. My relative was picked up in January and he spent four months in a detention center. He was then brought to Kenya under escort via a flight that took 36 hours.

I have opted not to get into details of his case or of other deportee stories that I am privy to as matter of privacy. However I wish to make this plea. I know that guys went abroad to seek better life and that there is a sense of guilt and shame associated with coming back empty-handed but please be your brother’s keeper.

If you have relatives abroad, check on them regularly. If you sense things are not okay, make them understand that it is fine to come back home instead of suffering in silence in the US.

Deportation is traumatic. I have a feeling that before long many families will have to endure it. This is me attempting to start the conversation so that folk can prepare for the eventuality or better still preempt it by having guys with ‘illegal’ status remain home voluntarily.





Lost in America – 1

The plight of Kenyans abroad and in the USA specifically is rarely documented or spoken about. This is a story that needs to be told. It’s a diverse topic that I shall attempt to tackle it in posts titled Lost in America.

Even though I have numerous relatives there, before last Sunday I was largely ignorant of life in America, the real version.

After chatting with or rather listening to my thirty-year old relative for 4 hours, I was thoroughly enlightened and stumped.

Let’s call my relative L. He went to America a 20 year old with a couple of suitcases and mega dreams. He was deported a broken 30 year old with only a small bag last Thursday.

For this story to be complete we must begin at the beginning. So let’s take a walk down memory lane.

Ten years ago, USA was the place to be. It was at the tail-end of ex-President Moi’s regime and Kenya was an economic and political mess.

Some families migrated to the US entirely while most sent several of their fresh out of high school kids to America for ‘further studies’.

This is their story.

Fundraisers for ‘further studies’ were as common then as ‘wedding committees’ are now. Families sacrificed a lot. I know of cases where parents used up entire retirement benefits for this venture. In extreme cases, like for my neighbor W, his parents sold their family house.

All these sacrifices were buttressed by the dream of a better life. America was the land of milk, honey and endless dollars. Kenya was a dead-beat third world country with no prospects. It was a settled argument which country was better to live in.

The bright-eyed teens, fresh out of high school, were seen as the saviors from the mess. They were expected to go and harvest as much of the dollars as possible. Land, houses, cars and mega-investments would then be a reality for their families left behind.

Getting a visa to America was like a camel going through the eye of a needle. One needed to show a reason why they were not a flight risk and also have a healthy bank balance. Remember these kids were not planning to return and the reason for going was so as to nourish their parents’ bank balances? There was also the non-refundable visa fees charged in dollars and the requisite TOEFL exams to be paid for.

Guys bought bank statements or asked rich relatives to transfer funds to the accounts to be used to show ability to cater for upkeep when in America. The flight risk element was harder to navigate but folk went round that by having letters showing they worked at blue-chip companies and thus would have no reason to stay in the USA indefinitely.

I chose to believe that even the consular officials knew the drill and thus the entire charade of visa issuance was just a case of satisfying pre-decided visa quotas. Maybe each consular official had 2 visas to give a day and they used individual discretion to decide who got and who did not.

The online appointment booking system that is used now was still a distant concept. Back then visa appointments were on first come, first served basis. The embassy was located on Mombasa Road where it had moved after the 1998 Nairobi US embassy bombing. Queues started at 5am but you could not stand near the embassy before then. So guys would sleep at the petrol station opposite, and then run across Mombasa Road and form a queue. 2 hours later the guards would let those seeking visas in.

The consular officials were invariably rude and curt. The terrible treatment was to be endured with a smile and humility. The goal was the visa and no humiliation would be too much to stomach.

Some dreams came to pass. Many others turned into nightmares. The embassy gates were the location of many a shout of joy and ecstatic hug and also tears and abject dejection.

The American visa was the difference. The ticket to heaven on earth or so it was thought. With the much sought after visa acquired guys would leave the country in a huff. Eager to start life anew in the ‘promised land’.

What happened to the young Kenyans when they got to America is what I will tackle in the next post.



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