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Salt Lake City's Muslim community is angry and frightened after two Kenyan immigrants were swept up by federal immigration officers and are reportedly slated for deportation.
Information remained sketchy Friday afternoon regarding the status of Ahmed and Emma Biwiki. But Cache County Jail officials confirmed they were being detained there. Cache County has a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold detainees.
At a Friday news conference at the Madina Masjid Mosque, 1773 W. North Temple, Richard Anzures, a friend of Ahmed, said the couple had received a letter from ICE and went to its Salt Lake City offices March 1. After that, no one has seen the couple, he said.
ICE "told his son, he was being detained," Anzures said. "We don't know what is happening to him."
Andures added that he has been told the couple were scheduled to be deported Monday.
Carl Rusnok, Director of Communications for the ICE Central Region, based in Dallas, said in an email sent to The Tribune on Saturday that said: "Ahmed Khamis Bwika and Emma Ondeko Bwika, both entered the United States in February 2006 on temporary visitor visas. A federal immigration judge denied their request for immigration benefits and granted them voluntary departure. They have overstayed their original visas by more than 10 years and have exhausted all their legal appeals. As a result, they were taken into custody when they reported to ICE March 1."
Biwiki's son, who was not identified at the news conference, was not available for comment.
The Biwiki case adds fear to an already anxious immigrant community. The administration of President Donald Trump is cracking down on immigrants those without documents and, apparently, some who have been working within the country's complex immigration system.
According to Imam Yusuf Abdi, Ahmed and Emma Biwiki have been in the United States legally for 11 years.
"We are very shocked and sad," Abdi said. "We have a lot of sorrow for this."
He added: "We are scared now. We think we are being targeted as Muslims."
The Biwikis applied for asylum and came to the United States as refugees and worked hard to maintain legal status, Abdi said.
The imam said he, too, is an immigrant. "We want to be in this country. We love this country."
The lack of information forthcoming from ICE makes it difficult to know exactly what has happened, said Aden Batar, director of immigration and refugee resettlement for Catholic Community Services. The silence has put people on edge.
"I have received a lot of calls from the Muslim community," Batar said. "They are worried."
Jim McConkie, an attorney who help found the Refugee Justice League of Utah to aid immigrants who are targets because of their ethnicity, religion or home nation, did not know the specifics of the Biwiki case. But he said that often asylum seekers make mistakes filling out required papers to maintain legal refugee status. When they are arrested, they are forced to return to their homeland.
"Is this a technical violation or is this something deeper?" McConkie asked. "My experience is that this is a technical issue that allows [ICE] to round people up."
A number of ecumenical leaders asked Utahns to speak up against the perceived crackdown on Muslims.
"The Muslims of Utah are our brothers and sisters," said the Rev. Patty Willis of the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society. "I call on all those in Utah who are people of faith to stand up for Muslims."
According to those present at the news conference, the Biwikis have retained a lawyer. It remains unclear, however, what their immediate future holds.