By KENDRA SITTON | Uptown News
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church gathered on Sunday, Aug. 25, to celebrate Constantin Bakala being released on parole. He was reunited with his family, who reside in San Diego, after 21 months in immigration detention across the U.S. The last time he saw his wife and seven children was when they presented themselves at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in November 2017 after escaping from political persecution in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“Constantin Bakala and his family arrived at the San Ysidro border crossing and asked for asylum. He had been kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured by his own government. His family had been hunted and harassed. His wife had been assaulted. ICE responded by detaining him,” Pastor Colin Mathewson said after the church service.
Bakala, his wife Annie Kapongo and 17-year-old daughter Mary-Louise thanked the community in a press conference for pressuring Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release the father on parole.
Bakala said the most difficult part of detention was being separated from his family where he could not see them.
“I’m very grateful to God and all those people who are helping my family to be together,” Mary-Louise said.
Due to the new Trump administration policy of keeping asylum-seekers in third countries, often Mexico, during the asylum process, Kapongo and the children’s court date has been postponed to November 2020 to give asylum-seekers outside the U.S. priority in the court system.
As they wait to see if they can stay in San Diego permanently, Constantin’s lawyer is going to petition for the court to bundle his case with the rest of the family instead of having two simultaneous processes. Bakala said through a translator that the conditions have changed since the first time he went before a judge he was by himself, but now he has a lawyer. He is hopeful that his asylum case will go through.
“Constantin has been reunited with his family but thousands of others remain incarcerated in for-profit prisons under appalling conditions. Tragically, the horrors of this story are not unique,” Mathewson exhorted.
“I want to tell those people who have the same situation as my family that whatever is your situation, just remember that you are not alone. There will be people who will support you,” Mary-Louise Bakala said.
Now that the family is reunited, they are able to commemorate the dates that pull a family’s history together. Kapongo and Bakala are belatedly celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. Mary-Louise is thankful her dad will be by her side to welcome her into adulthood on her 18th birthday this month.
“I’m just very happy. My dad is here,” Mary-Louise said.
Bakala said, “The joy that I feel right now — I don’t have words for.”
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.