Denied humanitarian parole, a longtime member of a North Carolina Baptist church has been deported to the Republic of Congo, his pastor announced Feb. 23.
Pastor Lauren Efird of Greenwood Forest Baptist Church in Cary, N.C., said immigration officials woke 58-year-old Gilles Bikindou from his holding cell in Atlanta at 2 a.m. on Friday and told him he was leaving.
Bikindou boarded a flight from Dulles International Airport in Washington to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at 10 a.m., accompanied by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer. After a layover, he was expected to arrive in the Republic of Congo, a place he didn’t want to go, by 11 p.m.
On Thursday ICE told Bikindou’s attorney his Feb. 9 request for humanitarian parole was denied. The denial came despite appeals by two members of Congress and a doctor’s letter voicing concern about his medical condition.
Dr. Christopher Sellers of the public health center of Wake County (N.C.) Human Services, said Bikindou has medical problems including HIV infection, diabetes and chronic kidney disease.
The physician said Bikindou’s treatment requires a specialized medication regimen unavailable in many developing countries, and based on his own work in sub-Saharan Africa he is “extremely concerned” that deporting his patient would pose “an immediate threat to his health and survival.”
Sean Gallagher, director of the ICE field office in Atlanta, said government doctors “carefully reviewed” Bikindou’s medical records and confirmed that his medical needs “could be fully addressed in the Republic of Congo.”
Gallagher said Bikindou would receive a copy of his medical records and a month’s supply of medicines “to be used while he seeks a permanent treatment solution in his home country” before being put on plane.
Efird said immigration officials took Bikindou’s driver’s license, Social Security card and even his debit card. They didn’t give him a bag that his church prepared for him with clothes and shoes. When asked about it, ICE said “there might not have been enough room in the plane.”
Greenwood Forest Baptist Church will continue to support Bikindou, a church member since 2006, by donating to a fund for his resettlement through a “Missions Assistance Fund.” The congregation suggested on Facebook that other churches wanting to show solidarity by placing a red stole and his picture in their pews like the one that sits on the pew where he regularly sat before his arrest during what he thought was a routine check-in visit to Charlotte on Feb. 9.
Greenwood Forest Baptist Church, aligned with the Alliance of Baptists and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, issued public appeals for Bikindou’s release in a press conference Jan. 11, a prayer vigil Jan. 29 outside the Charlotte ICE office where he was arrested, and a press release Feb. 19.
U.S. Rep. David Price, a Democrat, and U.S. Sen. Tom Tillis, a Republican, both wrote letters on Bikindou’s behalf. “ICE takes seriously its obligation to enforce the nation’s immigration laws, and the enforcement actions ICE employs are intended to accomplish this fairly and efficiently,” Field Office Director Gallagher wrote back.
“ICE focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” Gallagher said. “However, ICE Director Thomas Homan made clear, ICE will not exempt classes or categories of aliens not lawfully present in the United States from potential enforcement.”
Gallagher said Bikindou came to the U.S. on an exchange student visa in 2004. In 2005, he applied for political asylum, but the application was denied. An immigration judge ordered his removal and ICE took him into custody briefly in 2010.
ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations released Bikindou from custody on an order of supervision, due to medical concerns and the length of time it would take to deport him. On Oct. 30, 2017, the embassy of the Republic of Congo advised ICE they were prepared to issue a travel document facilitating Bikindou’s removal.
Unaware of that communique, Bikindou reported to the ICE office in Charlotte Jan. 9 this year, and was taken into custody. He applied for a stay of deportation or removal. ICE denied his request the following day.
Concerning Bikindou’s medical concerns, Gallagher said that “although not to the level of care available in the United States, there is HIV treatment in the Republic of Congo.”
On Friday Greenwood Forest Baptist Church posted the following prayer on Facebook:
“God of the immigrant and the stranger, we know you have walked through wilderness before. We ask that you walk in the wilderness with our brother Gilles Bikindou now. Part seas for him, bring water from rocks, and deliver him to your Promised Land. Please take care of him wherever he goes and provide for his every need. Move us, too, to care for him and all immigrants and strangers on the earth. For when we welcome immigrants, we welcome you. Amen.”