18/08/2010 03:06:18
Legal options exhausted, a Cameroonian will likely be deported
A Mineral County resident, husband and father of two could face deportation to Cameroon as soon as Wednesday, even as family and friends continue their struggle to keep him in the United States.
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Serge Babo, 28, has been imprisoned in York County, Pa., since May, when four agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrived at his home and arrested him as he was washing dishes.

His wife, Brittney, said ICE officials told her Babo would likely be deported sometime in mid-week, though they would not provide more specific information. If de-ported, Babo will probably not be permitted to return to the U.S. for at least 10 years.

The family had filed a petition to reopen Babo’s case. But a letter sent last week from ICE to one of the attorneys who has handled their case — they’ve paid five and consulted with more than a dozen others, trying to find help — said that since Babo has no immigration applications or litigation pending, he will now be required to leave the country.

“We have no pending applications because they’ve all been denied,” said Brittney. “What’s left to file? We’ve talked to other attorneys to see what we could file and been told there’s nothing we can do.”

Babo, a native of the African nation of Cameroon, has been living in the U.S. illegally for about a decade.

He came to the United States as a teenager in 1999, traveling with a group of boys to play basketball in an Amateur Athletic Union tournament in Chicago and entering the country with a visitor’s visa.

The man who chaperoned the boys abandoned them in the city, Brittney Babo said. With no money and no understanding of English, they lived on the streets.

Eventually, Babo found a foster home and graduated high school in Indianapolis. But he was still holding only a visitor’s visa, and following some questionable legal advice, applied for political asylum. His request and a subsequent appeal were both denied.

Babo was granted a voluntary departure, a window of time in which he could leave the country on his own terms without any permanent penalties. He didn’t do so.

“That’s where he made the mistake,” Brittney Babo said. “We know that.”

Instead, Babo attended college, met Brittney, and they married in August 2006. In 2009 they moved to Mineral County, where Brittney’s family lives, and bought a home outside Ridgeley.

Babo, who has a Social Security number and work permit that allow him to work legally in the U.S., worked as a treatment associate with children at Burlington United Methodist Family Services. He also watched the couple’s two young sons while Brittney worked overnight shifts as a nurse.

Now the couple’s two sons, ages 2 and 11 months, often live with their grandparents so that Brittney can continue to work.

She sleeps very little, because much of her free time is spent on the telephone with her husband. Serge is able to make frequent calls to Brittney for 20 minutes at a time, and they speak as much as possible throughout the day.

“He calls and calls,” Brittney said. “We talk for 20 minutes, hang up, and he calls right back.”

Since the Babos’ case became public, many people in the surrounding community and further have reached out to offer support.

Mineral County Commission President Wayne Spiggle has publicly advocated for Babo’s return to his home and family, calling the case “a terrible miscarriage of justice.”

“I find it hard to believe that this gentle man, a loving father of two who has contributed positively to our community as a mentor for troubled children, is being treated like a terrorist by the United States government,” Spiggle said.

By phone, Babo said Monday that he appreciates the way the community has pulled together around his family.

“I’m so thankful I’ve had my whole community behind me,” he said. “At one point we were getting four and five letters every single day from random people. It made me feel good – made me feel like I’m not alone in this.”

Brittney has visited Serge several times in prison, but on Thursday took their two sons with her for the first time. She said it was a struggle to decide if they should go, but she took them out of fear that the coming days would bring a much longer separation.

Babo was not permitted to make physical contact with his family during the visit, and instead spoke to them over a telephone, through glass.

“It was great to see them but it was emotional,” he said later. “To see my kids but not be able to touch them and love on them — I wouldn’t wish something like that for anyone.”

Babo said he continues to hope for a way to stay with his family, but frustration was clear in his voice as he spoke.

“I’m not trying to get out and be a criminal or work the system,” he said. “I want to be there for my kids. Somebody out there has to know what I can do to stay with my family.”

Contact Megan Miller at mmiller@times-news.com.

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