Justice for Tope Awe

By Elizabeth Wrigley-Field

MADISON, Wis.--After being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 22-year-old University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison student Tope Awe has been released from federal custody, but with a deportation order that Tope, her friends and campus activists are determined to fight.

The days after her detention on March 27 saw a tremendous outpouring of support for Tope. First, friends organized a petition that received thousands of signatures within days. Then, on March 31, friends from the African Student Association--which Tope co-founded--International Socialist Organization, Black Student Union and other campus activists, along with Tope's classmates from the Pharmacy school, organized a campus rally that brought out 80 people on less than one day's notice.

At the often-emotional rally, Tope's friends described her involvement in the campus community and her dedication to improving the environment for students of color. They described what it would mean for her to be sent to Nigeria, a country she hasn't lived in since she was 3 years old.

Some 60 students, chanting "Free Tope!" and "We won't give in to racist fear, immigrants are welcome here!" marched to the office of Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who has criticized U.S. immigration policy, to ask her to intervene on Tope's behalf. Baldwin's office was non-committal about support, but students vowed to continue the fight.

The next day, Tope was released from detention, ordered to wear an ankle bracelet monitoring her movement and told she would be detained in 60 days. Her 24-year-old brother, Gbenga Awe, who is married to U.S. citizen Jessica Ruffalo and has a 16-month-old son, was given the same order.

Their parents, Sam and Julianah, are teachers in Milwaukee, where her father is undergoing kidney treatment. The expiration of his medical visa and the denial of his request for political asylum apparently created the legal pretext for his children's detention.

Tope's friends and campus organizations are planning a meeting with Tope to determine next steps in supporting her and her brother.