Vancouver family struggles after husband and father deported

May 12, 2018
Wilitha Jarju holds a photo of her husband at their home in Vancouver on Tuesday, May 8, 2018. After living in the U.S. for 17 years, Wilitha Jarju's husband Gibril Jarju was taken from their home by ICE on Feb. 23 and transported back to Gambia. Now, Wilitha Jarju said, the family is trying to carry on while working to bring him back. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian via AP)

VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — A Vancouver family is still reeling after immigration agents arrested the father, who had been living and working in the United States for 17 years, and took him from their home.

Wilitha Jarju’s husband, Gibril Jarju, came to the United States around 2000. He was a police officer in The Gambia, in west Africa, who left to flee political violence there.

Wilitha Jarju awoke around 5:30 a.m. Feb. 23, when her 12-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Jarju, came to rouse her from bed.

Someone was at the door, Elizabeth told her mother.

Wilitha thought Gibril was headed to work from the family’s home in the Fourth Plain Village neighborhood.

Wilitha Jarju fumbled through the dark to find the front door slightly open. By the time she got to the doorway, there were two Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents standing at the threshold, and a few vehicles parked in the alley behind their building.

“When I saw that, I felt, like, a heat wave go over me,” she said, recalling Elizabeth was screaming.

Wilitha Jarju had enough time to get her glasses and hearing aids before going out to see her husband, who was handcuffed inside one of the vehicles.

The ICE agents wouldn’t let the kids see their father, she said. Thankfully, after some pleading, they let her keep his bank card.

Gibril Jarju was deported, and arrived in The Gambia on March 9.

Now, Wilitha Jarju said, the family is trying to carry on while working to bring him back. That process could take 18 months to two years, Wilitha said.

He was the family’s primary source of income. Their youngest daughter, rambunctious 6-year-old and Aisha, has Down syndrome, and Wilitha, who is hard of hearing, is disabled.

Her husband worked at ControlTek, a Vancouver manufacturing company, along with a second job as a Metro Watch security guard. He wanted to become a police officer, Wilitha Jarju said. Gibril Jarju has no criminal record.


Officials on the wrong side of politics have faced violence in The Gambia, Wilitha said, adding one of Gibril Jarju’s family members was killed in 2009.

He tried applying for asylum in the United States, but was denied. However, he was granted permission to stay and work. Later, the couple met, got married in Vancouver in 2009, then started a family.

ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley said in an email that an immigration judge in 2007 ruled Gibril Jarju was to leave within a few months. He didn’t go, which landed him on ICE’s list of fugitives.

“He was too scared to leave,” Wilitha Jarju said.

ICE arrested Jarju in April 2011, but by law, had to release him on an order of supervision in October 2011 because The Gambia failed to provide travel documents for him.

In February 2017, his attorney requested ICE join in a motion to reopen, which was declined in December 2017, Haley said. The Gambia issued travel documents for Gibril in January, and ICE officers moved to arrest him.

Wilitha Jarju is an American citizen. She said the family has been working with lawyers to find some path to citizenship for her husband.

It was two weeks after their lawyer started working on transferring some documents, as part of getting his green card, when ICE came.

None of the involved agencies seem to talk to each other — Wilitha Jarju maintains her husband’s marriage petition for a green card was approved in 2013 — and every step of the bureaucratic process takes more money.

“And every time you get denied, you lose your money,” she said.


Gibril Jarju is staying with family in The Gambia now, his wife said. They communicate sporadically through the internet.

“He’s happy to see us when he sees us, but he isn’t doing good,” she said.

There was some happiness in that he was able to see his mother after 17 years, but it was fleeting. The Gambia isn’t really home anymore, Wilitha Jarju said.

“He’s been gone for 17 years. He’s got the American mindset now.”

Coping has been a challenge for her and the kids too, she said.

“Everything is 10 times harder than it used to be. . Some days I just want to break down.”

When Gibril first left, they all got sick with anxiety, she said.

But people have stepped in to help, many of them total strangers.

Someone who wanted to help got her a part-time job, and another did the work to get the family in touch with a new attorney.

Others have set up online fundraisers, through LaunchGood.com, to help pay for legal and living costs.

Wilitha said she’s connected with three other women, all whose husbands were on Gibril Jarju’s flight.

“We cry together, have bad days together,” she said. “We are constantly talking all the time.”

Meeting them, she said, made her see that more people, within and outside the immigrant community, should talk about and see what’s happening.

When her husband was deported, people would ask why they didn’t talk about his immigration status, and said they would have tried to help them, she said.

“It helps me get through to know that somebody needs to speak out about this,” she said. “I gotta get up the next day for somebody else, because I don’t hear anybody talking about it anywhere.”


Information from: The Columbian, http://www.columbian.com

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