Politicians and New York sheriff back soup kitchen cook held by immigration agency

Elected officials, activists, faith leaders and a sheriff are rallying to stop Kinimo Ngoran's deportation to Ivory Coast, which he fled over a decade ago to escape violence

By AP in New York
  • Published 2.02.19, 1:40 PM
  • Updated 2.02.19, 2:08 PM
  • 2 mins read
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A migrant family waits with others before being transported by Mexican authorities to the San Ysidro port of entry to begin the process of applying for asylum in the US. AP file photo

A beloved soup kitchen chef didn't show up for work after a recent routine check-in with federal immigration officials landed him in jail and raised the possibility he would soon be deported.

Now, Kinimo Ngoran's immigration case has become a local cause celebre, as elected officials, political activists, faith leaders and a local sheriff are rallying to stop his deportation to the country he fled more than a decade ago to escape violence.

"This situation defies our American values," US Rep. Paul Tonko said on Friday at the Albany homeless shelter where Ngoran has worked under a temporary order of supervision from immigration officials while seeking resident status. "Rather than focusing on criminals and terrorists, we have been ripping apart families. It's unjust and speaks to the urgency of reform."

Ngoran, 38, is a citizen of Ivory Coast who arrived in the US as a stowaway, said Thomas Feeley, Buffalo field office director for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"He was previously ordered removed from the US by a federal immigration judge in 2004, and the courts subsequently denied his exhaustive appeals over the years," Feeley said.

But Ngoran had been regularly reporting to officials from the immigration agency under an order of supervision issued in 2012 because the agency had been unable to obtain a travel document from his home country, Feeley said.

In the meantime, immigration officials asked the Capital City Rescue Mission in Albany to sponsor Ngoran and gave him authorisation to work, according to Perry Jones, executive director of the inner city mission.

"He came here as a homeless person, and we took him in," Jones said. "We realised he was a great cook."

Ngoran, with his beaming smile, engaging personality and dedication to serving excellent meals, came to be a well-known and beloved figure at the mission. He worked there full time and paid taxes, Jones said.

A few years ago, he married Lisa Pepper-Ngoran, who had come to the mission to check on a nephew and later became a volunteer in the kitchen.

But then he was arrested on January 24 after the travel document was obtained, clearing the way for his deportation, Feeley said.

And that's when the community took up his cause.

After Ngoran was brought by immigration officials to the Albany County jail and then transferred to a federal detention center in western New York, Sheriff Craig Apple ranted about the injustice of it all on Facebook — and others have since expressed support.

"It's immoral, it's unjust, it's un-American," Apple said at the mission on Friday. "I'm asking for them to return Kinimo to his family, to the mission here in Albany, and to let him continue to fight for citizenship in our great country."

Ngoran's petition for a marriage visa was approved on Thursday, his lawyer Fred Korkosz said.

On Friday, a federal judge issued a temporary stay of deportation, said Gregory Copeland, a member of Ngoran's legal team. A hearing in federal court on Monday will determine next steps.

"Kinimo, who made it his vocation to serve people who are homeless, went to an immigration appointment and didn't come back," Albany mayor Kathy Sheehan said. "These fear tactics have to stop. People who are doing the right things in a broken system that isn't their fault need to be treated with dignity."