Suddenly there’s hope for Akim Gama
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
After spending nearly eight months locked up, Henry Akim Gama may get out on bond soon and has a chance to present his case for asylum.
Immigration Judge David Cordova signed an April 15 order to reopen Gama’s case. He found evidence of deteriorating human rights conditions in Zimbabwe was enough to reopen the case. Somehow, Gama’s attorney wasn’t notified of the order until Wednesday.
“It’s rotten for Henry because this was three extra weeks in detention for him,” said Mark Barr, of the Lichter and Associates law firm.
But he added, “He will most likely be able to get out of jail now that his case is reopened.”
Barr said Gama’s case for asylum will probably come down to one hearing before an immigration judge in the summer or fall of 2009. Gama will have to meet the definition of a refugee and show that he faces a reasonable likelihood of being persecuted for his political beliefs, he added.
Gama lived in Glenwood Springs for about six years and is a member of the Movement for Democratic Change party that opposes Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe. A major argument in Barr’s motion to reopen Gama’s case was the worsening political situation and violence in Zimbabwe following the country’s March 29 presidential election. It argued Gama would be in danger if he returned because of his political beliefs. Mugabe, who’s been in power 28 years, reportedly stepped up violence and intimidation tactics against his opponents to hold onto his position after apparently losing the election.
Gama’s friends, including his former employer at the Rivers Restaurant and a Glenwood Springs City Councilor, believe he was unfairly written off by the U.S. government. They said he was a model citizen who worked hard and paid taxes, and he shouldn’t be sent back to a possible death sentence in Zimbabwe for accidentally showing up 10 days late for a court date.
Gama’s brother said two plainclothes Zimbabwean secret police officers were looking for Gama at his mother’s funeral early last year, according to court documents. An MDC official wrote a letter saying Gama was instrumental in establishing MDC party structures near Victoria Falls and he would be in danger if he returned.
Gama now has a bond hearing before an immigration judge scheduled for May 15. Barr said he anticipates a reasonable bond because Gama isn’t likely to be found a flight risk or a risk to the community.
Gama came to the U.S. in 2000 and applied for asylum in 2004 without realizing immigrants must file for asylum within a year of arrival. He was only allowed to stay until 2002. Gama was arrested in September after missing an August 2006 court date that was rescheduled two times since 2004. A judge ordered him removed for missing the court date and denied a motion to reopen the case by a previous attorney.
Barr then filed the second motion to reopen the case. Besides the political issues, the motion alleged a previous attorney provided ineffective legal assistance. The motion was denied, appealed and sent back to Cordova with instructions to further explain his reasoning.
Anita Wan, general manager of the Rivers Restaurant, said of the ruling, “It’s a long time coming, that’s for sure. I’m very happy that they’ve decided to reopen the case.”
She estimated that so far about $16,000 has been spent on legal fees. Most of it was donated to help Gama. If Gama is released, another fundraiser and celebration will probably be in the works. It’s safe to say Gama will have a job at Rivers.
“He’s a very good friend. He’s a very good guy,” Wan said. “He will always have a job here.”
Contact Pete Fowler: firstname.lastname@example.org
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