Court hearings at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma are typically a quiet affair. But this week, a busload of students and faculty from the University of Washington showed up to call for the release of a fellow student who’s facing deportation.
At this hearing, an immigration judge would decide whether to release Bangally Fatty on bond while his deportation case continues. Fatty has been held in detention since September.
Members of the media were not allowed in to the hearing. But as his wife left the courtroom, her eyes red with tears, the outcome was clear. Her husband would not be coming home soon.
“The disappointment of not having him home tomorrow is hard,” said Rebecca Fatty. “But our ultimate goal is to have him home long term – I’m just trying to remember that and keep my hopes up.”
Rebecca held tight to their four-month-old daughter, Sunkarah, as her mom and sisters gathered around.
“This fight is not over,” said Rebecca’s mom, Barbara Blakey. Blakey, who lives in Olympia, said she was ready to “use all my resources” to help get her son-in-law released.
Fatty came to the U.S. 15 years ago on a student visa. He was ordered deported in 2011, after he was caught transporting marijuana. But back then his home country of Gambia did not accept deportees. That policy recently changed, prompting Immigration and Customs Enforcement to take him into custody again. Immigration officials have said they cannot comment on Fatty’s case.
As the bond hearing was underway, UW students, faculty and community members rallied outside the detention center, waving signs and chanting, "Free Bangally, free them all." Bangally was starting his second year at UW this fall as an international studies major. He made the dean’s list last year.
Attorney Chris Strawn oversees the UW Immigration Law Clinic, which has taken up Bangally’s case. He later told the crowd that Bangally was grateful for the support.
“Beforehand we were able to show him pictures of all the people here and he was so moved,” Strawn said into a megaphone. “He just wanted to give his profound thanks.”
Organizers for the rally estimate about 200 people turned out.
According to Strawn, the immigration judge said she did not have jurisdiction to grant bond, partly because the case crosses over into district court. So Strawn plans to appeal there next.
At the hearing, government attorneys argued Fatty is a flight risk and a danger to the community.
“That doesn’t fit with the person I know,” said Tim Payne, one of Fatty’s former professors. “We are looking at a person who’s turned his life around and just has fantastic potential in life.”