Even in its final days, the Trump administration’s immigration policies continue to destroy individual lives, communities and schools. Reflecting the corruption and immorality of a man who was recorded pressuring Georgia officials to “find votes” to overturn the 2020 presidential election, immigration officials are trying to deport a devoted Louisiana educator who actually loves our democracy.
Djibril Coulibaly emigrated from the West African country of Mali in 2001, recruited to help preserve the French Language in Louisiana by the Council for the Development of French. He was sponsored through a J1 work visa, which permits foreign nationals to work and train in the United States — meaning, Coulibaly was invited to the U.S. so we could benefit from his expertise. Until Dec. 15, 2020, Coulibaly had been teaching at W.S. Lafargue Elementary School, before immigration officials ripped him from his community and his family.
Now he sits in a detention center in Mississippi, 160 miles from his family, waiting for deportation, according to NOLA.com reporting by Katy Reckdahl.
Coulibaly had made Louisiana his home for 19 years, starting in Opelousas, before moving to Thibodaux in 2012. Immigration officials argue that Coulibaly did not have continuous visa. But the interruption of his visa status wasn’t his fault. According to NOLA.com reporting, Coulibaly transitioned to a H-1B work visa in 2007, but his employer, the St. Landry Parish School Board, missed a 2010 deadline to renew it. Then-Sen. Mary Landrieu sponsored a bill in 2011 that would have allowed Coulibaly to stay in the country by fixing the school board’s error, but the bill never made it out of committee That same year, ICE deferred his case. Since then, Coulibaly has been in court trying to rectify his employer’s mistake.
Coulibaly’s case highlights how broken our immigration system is. Before arriving in the U.S., Coulibaly served as a translator for the U.S. Peace Corps in Mali. In the nearly 20 years Coulibaly and his family have lived in Louisiana, they undoubtedly become members of the community. He has contributed socially through his work and service activities; Coulibaly adds value financially through his paid taxes. By teaching French, Coulibaly is a positive role model, encouraging the use of the language in a state where French speakers once dominated, but now account for less than 10 percent of the population. Unfortunately, our current immigration practices and policies make it too difficult to recognize and welcome law-abiding immigrants who make both quantifiable financial contributions and add unquantifiable value to the social and cultural fabric of our nation.
Immigrants have never been América’s problem. They are the bedrock of our nation, and a necessary part of its future. Our real problems are racism and bigotry.
If our rigid immigration system was already broken, our immoral leadership for the last four years has shattered it to bits. President Donald Trump’s depravity has been the only area which he has not discriminated. His hate knows no age limits, and he has been happy to tear apart communities, schools and families.
Now, President-elect Joe Biden has a chance to undo some of that damage. Biden has committed to an immediate moratorium on deportation when he is installed as president. But for many, reforms will come too late.
In June 2018, Trump asserted that the country should abandon due process laws for refugees who seek asylum here. “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country,” Trump tweeted before golfing at his course in Virginia. He continued, “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, Bring them back from where they came.”
As a result of Trump’s policies, at least 2,300 children were separated from their parents, causing irreparable trauma. Thousands more families are stuck in dangerous, putrid camps on the border because of his “Remain in Mexico” policy.
Some of Trump’s disastrous immigration policies are already unraveling. In his first year in office, Trump and the Justice Department ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed certain undocumented immigrants who arrived as children to stay in the country. States sued the administration. Eventually the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case, and on June 18, 2020, the Court issued a 5-4 decision finding that the cancellation of DACA was done in an arbitrary and capricious manner, violating the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
But Coulibaly may become another of Trump’s casualties. The educator told NOLA.com that his deportation to Mali — where Islamic fundamentalists are gaining influence and where advocates helping with his case warn he would be put in danger — is moving forward. He might be gone before Biden takes office on Jan. 20.
No good can come from putting a person who has been loyal to the U.S. in harm’s way. Instead, we should be finding ways to naturalize people like Coulibaly. Because immigrants have never been America’s problem. They are the bedrock of our nation, and a necessary part of its future. Our real problems are racism and bigotry.
Trump’s disdain for immigrants threatens the future of our country and its potential as a viable democracy just as much as his disregard for elections. Thibodaux, Louisiana is home for Coulibaly. His deportation is a blow to that community. We should all see that bigoted attacks on immigrants are an assault on us all.
Dr. Andre Perry, a contributing writer, is a David M. Rubenstein Fellow at The Brookings Institution. This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.
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