August 17, 2008

Immigrant could be sent to his death if deported

05:08 PM CDT on Sunday, August 17, 2008

Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO -- Federal agents consider him a fugitive subject to deportation, but friends and family members of Alexis “Alex” Nguitte-Bekongo fear the jailed immigrant will suffer a worse fate if authorities send him home: death.

Considered a deserter by his government’s military, Nguitte-Bekongo could be killed the second he steps off the plane in his native Central African Republic, loved ones say.

“They know who he is. The moment he arrives, they’ll grab him and we’ll never see him again,” said his best friend, Jean Ballet, 47, a Central African Republic native who won a petition for political asylum in the U.S.

Immigration agents arrested Nguitte-Bekongo, 44, last week in San Antonio. He was being held in Karnes City while officials try to obtain travel documents to deport him.

Authorities say Nguitte-Bekongo was supposed to leave the United States in 2001 but ignored a deportation order. Rudy Rodriguez, who heads up regional fugitive operations teams for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, described the case as routine.

Nguitte-Bekongo came to the U.S. to participate in a training program for foreign soldiers. He was completing the U.S. military training in San Antonio in 1996 when he received reports of violent unrest back home. Members of his tribe were targeted, according to his wife, Jamie.

Although his superiors had recommended him for the training in the U.S., he was labeled a deserter and traitor.

Gail Erlitz, Nguitte-Bekongo’s former U.S. Army instructor, recalled writing to military authorities in the Central African Republic, assuring them that Nguitte-Bekongo was not a deserter.

“We were really worried about him,” said Erlitz. “He was very respectful, dedicated—if I can help him in any way, I’ll do it.”

Nguitte-Bekongo’s wife said her husband lost a bid for asylum. A U.S. citizen, she tried to sponsor him so he could remain in the country but the application wasn’t approved.

The family blames shoddy legal work for their plight. Their lawyer, Earl Levis, had seven disciplinary cases filed against him, according to records at the Texas State Bar.

Levis said he could not remember details of the case but blamed the couple for failing to follow through. He said they disappeared not long after seeking his services.

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