War On Immigrants Continues Unabated
By ANDY THIBAULT
ColumnistLaw Tribune Newspapers
May 12, 2003
There's a giant poet locked inside the Hartford jail. He's a father of five and a teacher. He's a friend to senior citizens. The people of Stamford need him. His family needs him. Justice demands that he be freed immediately. The poet, Iyaba Mandingo, is also a painter. He was put on a deportation list last month because the government claims - falsely - that he did not respond to an INS request to attend a hearing for deportation. He never received notice, after faithfully attending all previous appointments. Immigration officials arrested Mandingo on April 17 - his 10th wedding anniversary - a few days after he gave a controversial poetry reading in Stamford. Mandingo learned then that he had been ordered deported in March 2001. His case is typical of hundreds around the country as government officials, in a supposed hunt for terrorists, expel our friends and neighbors. Eighty years ago the government rounded up Italians on false charges; today, it's mostly people of color. Mandingo, 33, was a Little League baseball All-Star not long after moving to Stamford more than 20 years ago from Antigua in the West Indies. He played offensive tackle and defensive end for Westhill High School, eventually growing to stand about 6-feet, 4-inches tall. He won a football scholarship to a college in Iowa. He's as American as you and me. "He's a good, decent guy," Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy told me. "He's a very gifted artist, and he participates in the community in a positive way." From the mayor and the director of the senior center to boyhood pals, school officials and the statewide arts community, there is a groundswell of warmth and support for Mandingo. He recently won a $35,000 commission to paint murals for a school in New Haven; work was to begin in June. The New York Times said his art turns "interlocked human limbs into rodlike, semi-abstract diagonal lines that create dynamic action as they sweep across his boldly colored paintings." Many admire Mandingo's strong, uncompromising poetry about slavery, racism and economic injustice. Fans cite a soft side: One does not have to agree with Mandingo to be his friend. The system wronged Mandingo twice-first because of his race, then a second time because of negligence, an inept bureaucracy and the current political hysteria. In college, Mandingo was wrongly accused of a crime. His lawyer did not want him to go before a local jury, so he accepted a plea bargain. The Iowa courts treated the case so lightly a felony charge was substituted with a misdemeanor. Authorities let Mandingo finish a semester at college before serving a 30-day sentence. Still, he had pleaded guilty to a crime he did not commit, and this blemish has stalled his quest to become a U.S. citizen. He subsequently married a high school sweetheart. They have five children. Mandingo's entire extended family became citizens - with help from U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays and U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd-except for him. His lawyer at the time of the immigration amnesty period of 1987-88 failed to file a permanent residence application on time and was reprimanded. Still, Mandingo never missed an immigration appointment. He was told he would not be deported, but that he would get a notice in the mail. He never did. The property manager at his Stamford condo filed astatement with immigration authorities stating that all 70 units have had mail delivery problems. Mandingo's new lawyer, Michael Boyle of North Haven, is trying to get his case re-opened. The government has made five children fatherless. The good citizens of Connecticut cannot let this action stand. Give us back out poet, our painter, our friend.