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DEPORTATION OF SIERRA LEONEANS: LESSONS LEARNED

BY Rev. Paul Bala Samura, Sierra Leone Student in Indiana, USA.
I found the news of the deportation of 27 Sierra Leoneans very disturbing especially the conditions attached, that US Visa restrictions would be imposed to enforce compliance. What is going on here! Is this a new kind of colonialism-where the smaller countries are suppressed to swallow bitter pills perhaps in order to have certain benefits viz-a-vis the privilege to travel overseas for official or private purposes?

Deportation in itself is a punishment for illegal entry or illegal stay in a foreign country or for other crimes against host nations. There have been many deportation of nationals in the past especially from the US and UK and Sierra Leone for example, accepted those deportees. They still considered them as their own. There is no place like home, no matter the condition.

LAJ


The current deportation of 27 Sierra Leoneans based on criminal records become a thorn in the flesh for the Sierra Leone government. Illegal or over staying in another country is a crime in itself which attracts deportation except mercy prevails. But deportation based on crimes committed by some people is a hard nut to crack.

Permit me to say few words about my journey to the US. My first visit to the US was in 2003 and since then I have come seven times. As early as my first visit someone asked me to stay. I told the person that I could not stay illegally because I was student in Nigeria and that I could not abandon my studies. Second, that abandoning my programme may deprive other Wesleyan leaders the privilege of studying abroad. Third, it will destroy all my chances of travelling in and out of the US. Fourth, it will discredit my identity as Minister of Religion and as a proud citizen of Sierra Leone. All this put together, I rejected all suggestions to stay in the great America illegally.

I am here on study leave from Milton Margai College of Education and Technology. When I arrived on July 27, 2017, I made my intensions known that I needed a part time job within the seminary. Not many higher educational institutions in the US provide work study for their students. I am lucky and grateful. Read the differences between the US and Sierra Leone.

The Finance department offered me a job but that all deposits or payments would be to my account which requires a bank account and Social Security Number. The admissions and International Students Counsellor took me to the Social Security Department in Richmond, Indiana. Booked for a spot and later appeared for preliminary interview. The officer told us that I ought to be in the US ten days before applying. We returned home and waited for seven days. The job was there waiting for me but needed other documents.

The interview was successful in our second visit except that the officer told me ‘You will receive your Social Security Number after eight days a week.’ This means I could not wok. Upon returning to the seminary I updated the Finance office while the next stage was to open a bank account. I had the feeling that all banks would require Social Security Number but the finance officer had little or no knowledge of this requirement because very few international students apply to the seminary. She called customer service of a bank and told the officer that they have an international student who wish to open a bank account, therefore, wishes to know the required documents. True to my speculation, Social Security Number was amongst the required documents. So work and bank account were forced to wait.

Let me back up a bit. According to the US Homeland Security regulations an applicant for Social Security Number must have been offered a job and that a letter of appointment with job description must be submitted during the interview which I did.

When I received my Social Security Number, we went to a bank with all required documents –Passport, Social Security Number, some money and proof of residence. You will not believe this…first, the bank has a student account with no opening amount required, and second, the process took me less than an hour. I signed for debit card and checks which were sent within seven days.

I had other documents to fill except the Social Security Number. The SSN seems to be the gateway to every opportunity in this great America. One can live for a short while without the SSN like I had done during my six visits in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2015. Only SSN qualifies an international to work legally, open a bank account, etc. It’s a tedious process but pays to be legal in a country that ‘worships its laws.’ I had to wait for fifty-one days.

How long does it take internationals to secure jobs in Sierra Leone? What is the documentation process like?

What is sad about the 27 deportees is that they were convicted criminals in the US. Those of you who may have applied for US Visas may have gone through series of questions on background checks. Are they important? Absolutely. I am pretty sure that an applicant who indicates any criminal record would be refused a visa. That’s simple!

Among the 27 deportees to Sierra Leone, LAJ caught my attention. Why? For three reasons.
One, That LAJ is Sierra Leone’s famous rapper. I certainly can remember him but very little since I don’t belong to his kind of music. Being a famous rapper means he maintains very good relationship with his peer citizens in Sierra Leone and around the world. He must have visited his country several times with his popular rapping skills. He must have told his colleagues in the music industry how proud he had been as Sierra Leone rapper. No doubt he was held in high esteem each time he visits and performs in Sierra Leone. He became a hero for the young people and icon for music lovers. But now he faces deportation.

Second, that LAJ served “8 years prison term for Identity theft, credit card fraud, carrying fake immigration documents, car theft in the United States.” This is very appalling and a disgrace to all Sierra Leoneans. Though a small country with medium income, we are still a decent nation. I found it difficult to believe that LAJ, Sierra Leone’s famous rapper could be a criminal to this extent in the most sought after nation in the world. Identity theft is the worst crime of all for LAJ. This left anyone wondering how on earth LAJ could have travelled several times to Sierra Leone with fake identity or carrying fake immigration documents to promote his music! What deceptive identity did he carry along? Was he born twin that his appearance looks exactly the same with his twin partner? What prompted him in the first place to indulge into these criminal activities especially to a country that spends billions of dollars on security? The most security conscious nation in the world! A country whose fear of terrorist attack grips every individual? A country that believes in the Dollar to defend them.

What about the immigration offices in Freetown that issued his passport or Lungi International Airport, the last security point before flying out of the country? Where they equally deceived by LAJ? Remember charity begins at home. So also security consciousness must begin at home. Certainly neither institutions compromised their integrity with LAJ. They remained clean all the time.

Even though LAJ is a free man, but because his deportation based on his criminal activities as mentioned above, Sierra Leone is forced to receive and live with a high class criminal. Can we survive this disgrace and trauma? A food for thought!

Finally, Responding to the order of his deportation, LAJ said, “My past, my present and my future is firmly rooted in USA, hence why I am struggling to understand why I have been served with a deportation order to Sierra Leone.”Certainly LAJ needs someone to talk to. He needs to go through de-traumatization, face his past ugly and lead him to self-actualization. Unless he goes through this process, he might just end up suffering from psychosis. How can a full grown man questions the reasons for his deportation when he fully knows that he has been living in the US illegally? His prison term paid off for other crimes he committed but the US would not allow him to continue living in their country with “identity theft and fake immigration documents”.

The other side of the argument is his refusal to be deported to his home country, a country that heldhim in high esteem through his rapping skills. This made his case worse and calls for careful consideration. The missing link is that LAJ, Sierra Leone’s famous rapper, is rejecting deportation to his own country. This is strange! This remains a mystery. Can you remember Oknonkwo in Things Fall Apart who went on exile to his maternal home because he committed a crime in his paternal home? He went and lived there for seven years. What is wrong with LAJ?

However, a man who detests deportation to his own country will do anything to destroy it. My fear is that LAJ might just do anything stupid upon arrival to Sierra Leone. Unlike in the past when he would receive a hero’s welcome as Sierra Leone’s famous rapper, this time, his arrival may be received with mixed feelings, the youths and family members will receive him as their rapper king while others will bow their heads in shame.

A second reason for rejecting his deportation is he had “no professional job training.”Any American who hears him will remark, “Like Seriously” Sadly there are millions of Africans who spent all their lives making money at the expense of learning professions. Money is good through but a profession sustains your income. This is also a food for thought for our government in Sierra Leone who has great interest in their citizens in diaspora, giving them appointments and so on. It is good. I will however, advice that background checks and good resumes are required for any appointment especially ministerial or top management positions. Remember, a career or profession is different from money.

Rev. Paul Bala Samura, Author


If I live as a truck or bus driver in the US, I will make a lot of money, may contribute to any political, social or economic campaign but does that qualify me for any ministerial appointment or managerial position? If any government appoints me as minister of Education, my main focus will be treating people like a truck or bus.

What lessons are there to be learned?

1. Those dreaming to come to the US must work hard to possess legal documents. Do a self-monitoring of the expiration dates in the passports and visas in your possession. The Homeland Security does not remind you nor police you (as far I can tell).

2. Leave the country as quickly as required. Don’t be a slave to your conscience and to the American corps. They become mad at defaulters. A white lady once told me in 2008, ‘Paul, you can always enter the US.” For instance I was given six months to stay in 2015 but I spent only 54 days because I had lectures to catch at MMCET.

3. Maintain clean travel records. My 2015 visa interview lasted for one minute and they gave me a three-year visa (2015-2018). This visa was valid when I applied for student (F1) visa in 2017. Again that interview lasted for two minutes because I requested information on how to pay $200 SEVIS fee to Homeland Security in the US.

4. If you have not learned a profession before entering the US, go for one. There are millions of such opportunities in the country. Grab one and become a professional. In this way even if you decides to return home, you may be able to secure a good job. Do not abandoned your education to come to the US especially if you are a final year student. Complete your programme. You can build on it in the US. They still recognize our certificates from Sierra Leone. Just make sure you had good grades which your transcripts will contain.

5. Maintain a good character while you are in the US. I often told my professors that I represent many interests: 1) My very self, 2) my professions-Pastor and Lecturer, 3) My religious faith –Christianity, 4) my country, SIERRA LEONE. I am very conscious of these interests.

6. There are billions of opportunities in the US- the good, the bad and the ugly. Go for the good. Go for what depicts your country. Even if I stay here until Jesus returns and do not commit crime, my country as well as other countries would not know about me or care less about me. But if I commit a crime, the best way to describe me to the universe is “Rev. Paul Bala Samura from Sierra Leone…”If the news carries Rev. Paul Bala Samura, only those who know me will be concerned. Therefore, do your very best to represent the ‘ Land that We Love, Our Sierra Leone.’

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