On March 29th, protestors gathered outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Baltimore to stand witness and protect Abegninan Amouzou from being deported. Coach Fofo, his most popular nickname, is currently at risk for deportation after one of his regular check-ins with ICE. Unfortunately, Coach Fofo cannot return to Togo, his country of birth, over the fear of retaliation and violence against him for his political beliefs. For the last 20 years, Coach Fofo has been an outstanding resident in the United States.
As a beloved trainer, father, and husband, Coach Fofo means a lot to many people, and so much more to his community. Many years ago, Coach Fofo was a soccer player on Togo’s national soccer team. Currently, he works as a soccer trainer and has created a program, Elite Soccer Youth Development Academy, in Silver Spring, which offers children competitive and recreational soccer practice. Coach Fofo is popular with the children that play on his soccer teams. And he offers a great deal of support and help to children from immigrant and low-income backgrounds.
Years ago, Coach Fofo had pleaded to be granted asylum, but he was never granted that protection or citizenship. When Coach Fofo went for his most recent check-in, ICE demanded a passport or other proof of citizenship, which he could not provide at that moment.
In the past, undocumented immigrants needed only to check in with ICE and avoid committing crimes to escape deportation. But the ACLU has seen a disturbing rise in an illegal ICE tactic of “bait and switch,” where immigrants are arrested at meetings they are required to attend, like marriage interviews as part of the process of getting a Green Card or at regular check-ins meetings.
“They told me, ‘You need to come back in a month,’” said Coach Fofo, speaking to the other protestors present at his side. “We’ll come back and we’ll come back with power.”
CASA, an organization that supports the rights of immigrants, was present at the protest, along with Jews United for Justice, Sanctuary DMV, Takoma Park Mobilization, Surge Montgomery County, Democratic Socialists of America, Montgomery County Chapter, several religious leaders, and members of the community.
Nicholas Katz, Coach Fofo’s lawyer from CASA, said, “Today is a happy day because Fofo gets to go home with his family and continue to do the great work that he’s doing with the community. But we only got one month.”
Unfortunately, there is still a chance that ICE may deport Coach Fofo in the next month. Organizations and people who participated in the protests continue to rally behind Coach Fofo and support him during this difficult time.
“We should support immigrants like Coach Fofo because they represent the best parts of this country,” said Sergio España, director of engagement and mobilization for the ACLU of Maryland. “Coach Fofo has done nothing wrong, other than try to ensure that his family can thrive.”
The possible deportation of Coach Fofo shocked the community because many felt that there was no justification for it. Separating families and deporting beloved and vital leaders in the community are not only barbaric practices but are also deeply destabilizing.
“He should not be deported. He has a family, and he is a part of the community,” said Sergio. “Immigrants continue to pay taxes. They contribute to our country. And more importantly, they are human and are equally as important as other people in this country.”
The ACLU stands against family separation and against communities being stripped of their leaders. People should not be ripped away from their homes. Join us in supporting Coach Fofo.