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Testimony of Patrick Mkhizi

Refugee from Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire) –
Granted Asylum in the U.S.

Immigration Subcommittee
Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate

May 3, 2001

Chairman Brownback and other Senators, thank you so much for asking me to come here today to talk about my own experience when I came to this country. I am a refugee and I have been granted asylum in the U.S.

It seems almost a miracle that I am sitting here today. You see, when I first arrived in the United States, I was very nearly deported and then was detained for 3 and ˝ years. I came to the U.S. to escape from persecution in my country, which was Zaire. My father was a member of a pro-democracy party, which opposed the Mobutu regime. One terrible day, security forces raided our home and discovered opposition materials. They beat and tortured me, and they beat my father to death before my eyes. My mother and two sisters ran away from the house and I have not seen them since. I knew I had to run away too. I made my way by boat to the United States. I arrived in Philadelphia in May 1997, just after the expedited removal procedures began.

The INS put me in chains and took me to the detention facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey. An INS asylum officer sat with me and asked me a lot of questions. I did not understand what was happening, because there was no interpreter, no lawyer to explain things to me, and I did not even know what asylum meant at the time. I was so afraid. I did not know what was going to happen to me and I thought they might send me back to Zaire. The INS officer decided I did not have a credible fear and ordered me deported. I then had an immigration judge “review,” but there was no lawyer or interpreter to help me understand. It was very confusing. The judge asked me questions in English which I could not understand. I was too terrified to answer because I was afraid of being sent back to Zaire to die.

My fears came true. They brought me in chains to the airport to send me back. I was shaking with fear. At the airport, I cried out, “This is a country of human rights! Why are you trying to deport me to my country, where I will be killed?” I lay on the ground and refused to go. Three detention guards picked me up, handcuffed me tightly, and carried me onto the plane. I was absolutely terrified. I cried on the plane, and pleaded with them not to deport me. The airline employees asked the guards to take me off the plane.

I was returned to the detention facility and contacted the UNHCR. The INS finally changed its decision and decided that I really was afraid to go back and that I could apply for asylum.

I was detained at Elizabeth for more than two years. Detention was a very difficult experience for me. I had lost my family and had been tortured in my home country. I felt depressed and scared. My one comfort during this period was through the English and Bible classes offered by Jesuit Refugee Services, which were later stopped by INS. Through JRS, I met Charlie and Gerri Mulligan, who visited me and sponsored me for parole. I made a parole request, but the INS denied it.

Then the INS transferred me to Sussex County Jail, where I was put in a cell with convicted criminals for one year. I lived in constant fear of being harmed by other inmates. After that jail, the INS transferred me to York Prison in Pennsylvania, where I was held for about a month.

After living like a criminal in jail for three and a half years, I was finally granted asylum in November 2000. I couldn’t believe at first that I was being released from detention. I was so happy to have my freedom. Now I am trying to build a new life. I am taking English classes and studying to become an auto technician. I am also working as an auto mechanic. I am proud to say that recently I was employee of the month and student of the month. For me, this is the meaning of freedom. It is my way of showing my appreciation for getting my freedom back.

I want to thank you, Senators, for giving me the opportunity to tell you about my difficulties. I came to this country seeking freedom and safety. But I was so close to being deported and then in jail for so long. The law is very harsh. I hope that you will make the system safer and more humane for refugees like me.

Thank you.

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