A picture of Rebecca and Bangally Fatty on their wedding day is shown in a photo album on Tuesday, November 14, 2017, in Seattle. 
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A picture of Rebecca and Bangally Fatty on their wedding day is shown in a photo album on Tuesday, November 14, 2017, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

How UW students, teachers stepped in to halt a deportation (for now)

Updated 11/27/2017, 1:55 p.m.

Bangally Fatty, a University of Washington student who faces deportation, could be allowed to return to his Seattle home this week. A judge is set to decide on Wednesday, Nov. 29, if Fatty will remain in custody or be released on bond.

Original story, 11/16/2017

This fall, a well-liked and top student at the University of Washington went missing. His wife was in a panic.

“Not knowing what had happened, if he was okay,” said Rebecca Fatty.

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When he finally called, it was from the immigration detention center in Tacoma.

Now the case of Bangally Fatty is testing the idea of what it means to be a "sanctuary" campus for undocumented immigrants. Students and faculty at the UW are trying to get him released.

Bangally Fatty made the dean’s list last year. His teachers in the international studies program describe him as outstanding. They want him back on campus.

His wife wants him back home with her and their four-month-old daughter, Sunkaruh.

Rebecca Fatty says that her husband took on the role of baby whisperer whenever Sunkaruh got fussy.

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“He would like to hold her and sing to her,” she said. “Not really a song but a little tune that they’d sing to babies back home.”

Back home is The Gambia in West Africa.

Bangally Fatty came to the U.S. on a student visa 15 years ago. He hit some troubles after that.

His school funding fell through. He was alone and sometimes homeless. He got by on odd jobs, and as he puts it, “made some bad choices.” In 2011, he was caught transporting marijuana in Oklahoma. A judge later ordered him to be deported.

But that order stalled, because The Gambia refused to accept deportees. So, Bangally remained in the U.S. with the requirement to periodically check-in with ICE. That continued until recently.

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Bangally's lawyer, Chris Strawn, said it appears policy has changed in The Gambia and deportees can now return. ICE officials were unable to provide details about Bangally’s case, or why they arrested him in September while he was driving to work.

“And so it went from being married and working on this parenting thing together to being a single parent,” Rebecca Fatty says.

She ended her maternity leave early to return to work as a nurse practitioner. She gave up their apartment and moved in with her sister’s family.

Every few days, she takes Sunkaruh to the detention center in Tacoma. They visit Bangally on the opposite side of a glass window.

How does he react when he sees his daughter?

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“I think most of our time is spent trying to get her to smile, playing peek-a-boo,” Rebecca said.

On the UW campus, people who know Bangally say he’s turned his life around. And when his wife called them for help, they jumped into action.

Professor Angelina Godoy helped spearhead the effort. She described Bangally as “an incredibly conscientious and thoughtful student. We were really eager to do whatever we could to support him.”

There had been a lot of talk at the UW about what it means to be a sanctuary campus. After President Donald Trump’s election, fears surfaced that undocumented students would be increasingly at risk.

Faculty discussed how to respond if ICE reached into their campus. In a letter last November, UW leaders said they aimed to “mitigate any negative future developments for undocumented students.”

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Bangally would be their first test.

A UW petition calling for Bangally’s release had nearly 4,000 signatures just days after it launched. Students are organizing a “teach-in.” And perhaps most significantly, a UW law clinic has taken up his case.

Strawn, who also oversees law students working on this case, said they discovered Bangally may be eligible for a special T visa to stay here because he was a previously a victim of labor trafficking in Pennsylvania.

"He was forced to work 12-14 hour days as a dishwasher in a restaurant for $150 a week, with his trafficker holding his passport and threatening him if he left or complained," Strawn said. Bangally has since reported the trafficker to federal authorities.

Bangally's deportation case is now on hold while the visa application is pending.

Bangally also has a bond hearing later this month, where a judge could allow him to return home while his case continues.

Godoy thinks it’s a first for the campus – to know about a student picked up by ICE.

“There must have been others who, you know, stopped coming to class one day and nobody ever knew why,” she said. “And in a way that's what disturbs me the most and makes me want to make sure that we don't continue to tolerate this sort of silent siphoning off of our students from our campus.”

She wants this petition, this legal effort, and the students who’ve organized support to send a clear message that they care.

Faculty members who are assisting Bangally say UW administrators have been receptive to everything they’ve asked, although UW leaders have not publicly gotten involved.

“Students, faculty and staff who know and have worked with Bangally are finding ways to express their support for him,” Victor Balta, a UW spokesperson, wrote in an email to KUOW. “We will continue to monitor his case and hope for a positive outcome.”

UW Professor Dan Chirot, who would've had Bangally in class this fall and supports his release, said he understands that UW leaders are in a somewhat delicate position when it comes to sanctuary.

“The university administration … they’re being careful, " Chirot said. "They have to watch what they’re legally allowed to do. And this is a political issue.”

For now, school is over for Bangally Fatty. He bought the books and tried to keep up with classes from detention. But with just one hour a day for computer time, there was no way.

Still, Rebecca Fatty is thankful.

“I don't know where I would be without the UW right now,” she said. “I think he would already be deported and back in the Gambia if it weren't for University of Washington stepping up. I hope other universities can emulate what they've done for us.”