Episcopalian congregation rejoices as asylum-seeker is freed

30 August 2019

MARC L. LIEBERMAN

Constantin Bakala is reunited with his wife and seven children at San Diego International Airport, last week

Constantin Bakala is reunited with his wife and seven children at San Diego International Airport, last week

AN EPISCOPALIAN congregation in San Diego, in the United States, celebrated the release of an asylum-seeker, Constantin Bakala, last week, who had been separated from his wife and seven children on the Mexico-US border two years ago.

The family fled their home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for fear of persecution and violence. Mr Bakala had been affiliated with an opposition political party that promoted democratic reforms. After journeying through South and Central America, the family arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, in November 2017, where they sought asylum in the US.

Mr Bakala was detained pending the outcome of their case. His wife, Annie Bwetu Kapongo, and the children were released on condition that she wore an ankle monitor. The family settled in San Diego, where they became involved with St Luke’s, North Street.

The children, who are now aged six to 17, serve as acolytes and sing in the choir, the Episcopal News Service (ENS) reports. The congregation has been raising funds to cover the legal costs to support the family and fight their case.

Last week, Mr Bakala, who speaks French, was released on parole. He was reunited with his family for the first time in 20 months. “The joy that I feel right now — I have no words for it,” he said at a celebration at the church last Sunday, a local radio service, KPBS, reported.

His daughter, Marie Louise Bakala, told the television station KGTV: “I am really grateful to God and to all those people who are helping me and my family to be together.”

The family may still have to return to the DRC, although the Revd Colin Matthewson, who co-pastors St Luke’s with his wife, the Revd Laurel Mathewson, told ENS that Mr Bakala feared that he might be killed if he was sent back.

The hearing of the case has been moved to California. A new trial date has yet to be confirmed.

The RC Bishop of Austin, Texas, the Most Revd Joe S. Vásquez, who chairs the US Bishops Committee on Migration, warned that the new rule of President Trump’s administration, which allows the federal government to hold immigrant children in family detention indefinitely, would have “heartbreaking consequences for immigrant children”.

“This rule will jeopardise the well-being and humane treatment of immigrant children in federal custody, and will result in children suffering long-lasting consequences of being held for prolonged periods in family detention. We oppose this rule that we believe is unlawful and inhumane. Countless children will be harmed,” Bishop Vásquez said in a statement.

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