Immigrant Can Return to U.S. After Burying Family in Mali
Published: March 14, 2007
An illegal immigrant who lost four children and his wife in last week's fire in the Bronx learned yesterday that he would be allowed to travel to and from his West African homeland to bury his family, ending a period of uncertainty amid his grief.
The immigrant, Mamadou Soumare, 48, a cabdriver, was scheduled to visit a federal immigration office at 10 a.m. today and receive formal permission to travel to Mali and return to New York, officials said. In the aftermath of the fire, one of the deadliest in recent New York history, his relatives, city leaders and a lawyer had been trying to fulfill his wish of burying his family in Mali.
Mr. Soumare first heard the news late yesterday while sitting in the Manhattan offices of the lawyer, Michael Wildes, who has been working on the case pro bono. “He was elated,” Mr. Wildes said. “His religious liturgy plays a strong role in his life. It's important that he lay his family to rest as quickly as possible.”
Though Mr. Soumare did not have a green card, he had previously applied for political asylum, officials said. Elected officials had been trying to resolve his problem, including Senator Charles E. Schumer; José E. Serrano, the Bronx congressman; and Adolfo Carrión Jr., the Bronx borough president.
Mr. Schumer and Mr. Serrano had lobbied the New York branch of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to grant Mr. Soumare a type of temporary travel permission known as advance parole. Advance parole is typically issued by the citizenship office to those with pending immigration applications, including asylum applications, and allows them to re-enter the United States after traveling aboard.
Shawn Saucier, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the agency was prepared to issue Mr. Soumare an advance parole after his appointment today at the agency's office at Federal Plaza in Manhattan.
It remained unclear when Mr. Soumare would leave for Africa. The director of the funeral home, Francisco's Funeraria, said yesterday that the earliest the bodies could be sent was tomorrow, because of the many arrangements that would need to be coordinated to fly the bodies. In the meantime, the bodies lay in a refrigerated room, in wooden boxes lined with zinc and stainless steel.
Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, a family spokesman and the principal of the Islamic Leadership School in the Bronx, said Mr. Soumare would probably leave sometime Friday. Mr. Drammeh said he had been confident that Mr. Soumare would receive the permission he needed.
“In the past, America and the State Department and immigration has not shown insensitivity in cases like this, of humanitarian assistance, so we were very hopeful things would work out,” he said.
Mr. Schumer and Mr. Serrano each took credit in separate news releases for securing the authorization for Mr. Soumare's travels. Mr. Schumer said he worked with immigration officials to reopen Mr. Soumare's asylum case from 1992, and Mr. Wildes thanked Mr. Schumer for his help. Mr. Serrano sent the death certificates on Monday to immigration officials, along with a letter requesting advance parole.
“There's no joy in this,” Mr. Serrano said. “The guy's going home to bury his children.”
Advance parole is issued in lieu of a visa, but it does not provide a path to permanent residency. Mr. Wildes, who is also the mayor of Englewood, N.J., said he would help secure his client's permanent status while Mr. Soumare was in Africa.
Four of Mr. Soumare's children died as a result of the fire. His three other children live in Mali. Mr. Wildes said Mr. Soumare was grateful for the emotional and financial support and assistance his family and the Magassas, who lost five children in the fire, have received.
“The support,” Mr. Wildes said, “has lit the shadow of his tragedy with light.”
The New York Times
Paid for by Friends of Michael J. Wildes, Assemblyman Arnold Brown, Treasurer