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Man in sanctuary in Ann Arbor Quaker meeting house can go free after two years

mohamed soumah stands outside the ann arbor friends meetinghouse where he has lived in sanctuary for two years
Caroline Llanes
Michigan Radio

Mohamed Soumah was offered sanctuary by the Ann Arbor Friends Meeting House two years ago, after an immigration judge ordered his deportation. Now, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has granted him a stay of removal for one year. 

Soumah has polycystic kidney disease and needs dialysis, something he says he can't get in Guinea. He only left the Quaker meeting house for those appointments, accompanied by clergy members from the Washtenaw Congregational Sanctuary.

Soumah has lived in the United States for 17 years, and has had polycystic kidney disease for almost as long. He says the toll it took on him physically and emotionally was immense.

"I’ve been sick for a long time, a very very long time. Even somebody, my enemy, I don’t wish anybody to have this sort of disease. It will eat you up," he says, crediting the generosity of the Quakers and WCS for getting him through. "I stayed here for two years, because the people I met here, they welcomed me, they accepted me like a human being, like I'm somebody. Otherwise, I'm not going to be here two years. Everybody was good to me, sharing things with me, emotionally, people were helping me. That is blessed for me, and I appreciated that." 

In spite of the difficulties, he says he will not soon forget the kindness he received from the Quakers in Ann Arbor and other members of the WCS.

"Everybody I met during these two and a half years, treated me like a human being, like a family. You don’t know me, you take a chance, and sponsor me, having my back, taking care of me," he says.

Soumah described the anxiety that came with constantly looking over his shoulder when he left the house for his medical appointments, and the sense of relief that came Tuesday after he went to ICE offices in Detroit and received his order of supervision.

"It was not easy for me to go [to ICE], I didn't know if I was going to come back or not. After that, I would say I was very happy to not look over my shoulder when people are driving me to dialysis, looking over your shoulder when you see police. So after that Tuesday, I'm very relieved I'm not looking over my shoulder."

He says the COVID-19 pandemic added another layer of anxiety to the fraught situation.

"I was already in quarantine before the pandemic, I was there for at least one year by myself. But I was very afraid to get infected, especially because when I go to dialysis. Some people, they give up, they don't want to fight, so I see them, they're not wearing their mask, sneezing next to me."

He and his attorney, Sabrina Balgamwalla, say they're looking toward the future and are working on plans for Soumah to stay in the U.S. long term. For now, Soumah will be under regular supervision, and will check in periodically at the ICE office.

ICE provided the following statement:

On May 27, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) in Detroit granted Mohamed Soumah, a citizen of Guinea, a stay of removal for one year. Enforcement and custody decisions are made on a case by case basis for each unique individual and are evaluated throughout the duration of someone’s immigration proceedings.

Caroline is a third year history major at the University of Michigan. She also works at The Michigan Daily, where she has been a copy editor and an opinion columnist. When she’s not at work, you can find her down at Argo Pond as a coxswain for the Michigan men’s rowing team. Caroline loves swimming, going for walks, being outdoors, cooking, trivia, and spending time with her two-year-old cat, Pepper.
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