HOPE RUNNING OUT: African immigrant who’s lived in East Idaho for 16 years is now sitting in jail cell awaiting deportation
Chakanetsa Christopher Matimba says he is hoping for a miracle when it comes to saving him from what appears to be imminent deportation back to his native Zimbabwe.
With his family in Zimbabwe saying Matimba “will be as good as dead” as soon as his plane touches down, it certainly looks like he’ll need one.
”I’m just trying to stay positive,” Matimba said during a phone interview from the East Idaho jail where he’s being held. “There is always light at the end of the tunnel and we will always have people in our corner.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a press release Wednesday in which the agency essentially doubled-down on its reasons for deporting Matimba, who goes by “Chris” and has been a resident of Pocatello for the past 16 years.
That is until a routine check-in with immigration officials on June 5 of this year in Idaho Falls resulted in his arrest and subsequent detainment at the Jefferson County Jail in Rigby pending his deportation.
ICE says the bottom line is that Matimba was convicted of a crime — domestic battery — more than a decade ago that essentially made it illegal for him to remain in the United States. ICE is not backing down from its plans to deport Matimba in less than two weeks.
It doesn’t matter that Matimba served his domestic battery sentence of three years of probation and successfully worked to have the conviction entirely removed from his criminal record. Nor does it matter that since being convicted, Matimba has been in regular contact with immigration officials and has maintained a clean criminal record.
”ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” ICE said in its Wednesday email to the Journal. “All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”
Matimba’s attorney, Chris Christensen of Boise, is apparently out of options. But Matimba’s family is raising money for one last-ditch court appeal. Not even alerting U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho Falls, about Matimba’s plight has made any difference.
ICE maintains that when Matimba was arrested on June 5 of this year while checking in with immigration officials he was in the U.S. illegally, although it was ICE that decided not to deport him in 2007 because Zimbabwe hadn’t provided the necessary travel documents.
ICE said Wednesday that Zimbabwe has finally provided those travel documents, and ICE will carry out the deportation on Aug. 15 unless Elizabeth McGrail, an immigration judge in Aurora, Colorado, approves an appeal to reopen Matimba’s case.
The appeal might be out of reach, however, as Matimba’s family has exhausted their bank accounts, having spent thousands of dollars to date on attorney and immigration fees.
Lori Haley, the western regional spokeswoman for ICE, said via email on Wednesday that although Matimba had entered the U.S. legally in August 2002, he violated the terms of his admission to the U.S. when he was convicted of domestic battery on Oct. 24, 2006.
Matimba was originally charged with felony attempted strangulation in Bannock County in July 2006. However, as part of a plea arrangement with county prosecutors, the charge was reduced to misdemeanor domestic battery. Ultimately, the charge was dismissed altogether in 2011 after Matimba completed his sentence of three years of probation and satisfied the terms of a withheld judgement request.
While Matimba was being held at the Bannock County Jail in 2006 awaiting the adjudication of his case, ICE served him a notice to appear in front of an immigration judge on Nov. 8 of that year. After appearing before the judge, Matimba was taken into custody by ICE on Nov. 14, 2006, and was transferred to an ICE detention center in Arizona.
Then on Feb. 27, 2007, an immigration judge with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review ordered that Matimba should be deported to Zimbabwe because of his domestic battery conviction, Haley said.
But ICE released Matimba from custody five months later on an order of supervision because the agency was unable to obtain the travel documents from Zimbabwe that were needed to return him to his home country, according to ICE.
ICE, however, said Wednesday that this didn’t mean Matimba was going to be allowed to remain in the U.S. permanently. Rather, his release on supervision had various requirements that included periodic in-person reporting with ICE’s Enforcement and Removal officials.
Matimba said he complied with these visits with immigration officials for the past decade-plus with no issues until his most recent visit in June, at which he was arrested and told he was being deported back to Zimbabwe.
Christensen previously told the Journal that when Matimba was released from ICE custody in July 2007 he was granted a stay of removal order or a temporary order to postpone deportation.
When provided with the statement from ICE on Wednesday that Matimba was released on an order of supervision, Christensen admitted the agency is likely correct. But he added, “So what? He was on an order of supervision and was checking in for 11 years. Effectively, it’s the same thing as a stay in that (ICE) chose not to remove him from the country.”
Haley said ICE’s decision to arrest and deport Matimba is in accordance with federal law, agency policy and the order of the courts.
The Journal previously reported that Matimba had been taken into ICE custody on June 5 while checking in at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services facility in Idaho Falls, but on Wednesday ICE officials said he was actually arrested at a U.S. Department of Homeland Security ICE facility in Idaho Falls.
Since he was ordered to be removed from the U.S. in 2007, Matimba has tried to rectify the situation multiple times, according to Christensen and federal immigration court documents provided to the Journal on Wednesday.
The documents state that in 2007 Matimba sought relief in the form of asylum in the U.S. under the Convention Against Torture Act — claiming that he would be persecuted if he returned to Zimbabwe on account of his involvement with the political party Movement for Democratic Change or MDC.
Currently the MDC is the main opposition party in the Zimbabwe legislature.
But an immigration judge didn’t accept that argument and on March 29, 2007, denied Matimba’s applications for relief from the ICE deportation order.
In April of this year, Chris and his wife of six years, Deon Matimba, traveled to Boise to meet with ICE officials for a marriage interview to try and get him a permanent resident card, also known as a green card, which would allow him to stay in the U.S. indefinitely.
The couple had decided to wait until long after their marriage to file for the green card because they didn’t want ICE to think that the marriage was just a ploy to enable Chris Matimba to remain in the U.S.
“We sent the ICE agents who interviewed us (in April) 700 pages of documents and they said they never received any of them,” Deon Matimba said. “We know they received them because Chris (Matimba) checked the tracking numbers. But still, that’s on top of spending $500 on the interview and paying to get down to Boise and stay the night there.”
Last month after Chris Matimba’s arrest, Christensen said he submitted a motion to the court to revisit the original ruling in 2007 ordering Chris Matimba’s deportation and to request an emergency stay of that removal order to keep his client from being deported.
Christensen’s motion stated that Chris Matimba’s deportation order should be rescinded based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, the deteriorating conditions in Zimbabwe and his attempt to get a green card.
But the motion was denied by the immigration court for several reasons.
The court stated that Chris Matimba did not provide the proper documentation to rescind his deportation order, but noted that even if he had filed all the required documents the court did not believe conditions had deteriorated to such an extent in Zimbabwe that he would be unsafe if deported back there.
“Although the court acknowledges that the upcoming presidential elections have sparked violence and unrest (in Zimbabwe), (Chris Matimba) has not demonstrated how these conditions are any different than those he presented in 2007” when he unsuccessfully sought asylum in the U.S. under the Convention Against Torture Act, the court said.
Chris Matimba’s family members in Zimbabwe believe otherwise.
The Journal obtained a copy of an email sent on Thursday by Chris Matimba’s two sisters who live in Zimbabwe to the eldest of his two step-children, Tarryn Porath of Pocatello.
The sisters said via their email that because Chris Matimba was a strong member of the MDC his deportation to Zimbabwe “will be like handing him over for his death.” The sisters added, “We his family here in Zimbabwe fear that he will be executed. The day Chris (Matimba) is handed over for deportation the security agents (in Zimbabwe) will know … and when his plane touches down in Zimbabwe he will be as good as dead.”
Lastly, the immigration court in response to Christensen’s motion indicated it was concerned with the nature of Chris Matimba’s “adverse criminal history, specifically the factual circumstances regarding his 2006 domestic battery conviction.” The court pointed out that police said Chris Matimba pinned his pregnant girlfriend in the car by placing his knee on her stomach during the 2006 incident. Furthermore, Chris Matimba “hit her a few times and attempted to choke her,” the court said.
This incident involved Chris Matimba and the mother of his now nearly 11-year-old son Dominique.
Aside from two minor traffic citations, Chris Matimba has had no encounters with law enforcement since his 2006 domestic battery conviction.
During the 11 years since ICE first tried to deport him, Chris Matimba met and married Deon, has continued to check in with U.S. immigration officials as required and in 2011 he graduated from Idaho State University with a bachelor’s degree in business.
Since his incarceration began June 5, Chris Matimba has received at least 25 letters praising his character from various members of the Pocatello community, including the mother of his son who was the victim of the crime for which he’s now facing deportation.
“We reconciled a very long time ago,” Chris Matimba said from jail about his ex-girlfriend. “I learned from that mistake really quickly and her and I formed a great relationship afterward.”
Deon Matimba said that she reached out to U.S. Sen. Crapo for help and was told he couldn’t do anything to keep her husband from being deported.
An official with Crapo’s office told the Journal that the senator has done everything he could as an elected official to help the Matimba family, even contacting the federal agencies involved in the situation.
“Due to privacy concerns, our office cannot comment on any casework or efforts that have been undertaken regarding specific individuals,” Crapo spokesman Lindsay Nothern said in a Wednesday email. “As has been our practice, if asked by an individual to assist with problems with federal agencies, our office will advocate to ensure that the individual is treated fairly and offered all options available regarding their specific circumstances.”
If you would like to help the Matimba family achieve their funding goal of $5,000 to pay for Christensen to file another appeal of Chris’ deportation, an account has been set up with Idaho Central Credit Union. Those interested can reference the name Deon Matimba to any teller at any ICCU location in order to make a financial contribution. If you would like to make a donation directly to Deon Matimba, she can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Matimbas have created a GoFundMe online fundraiser accessible by visiting https://www.gofundme.com/a4yph-caravan-for-chris. All unused donations will go to other families affected by immigration laws, Deon Matimba said. The Matimbas also plan to hold a fundraising yard sale at 445 Willard Ave. in Pocatello on Aug. 18 to recoup some of the costs for filing the appeal.
Deon Matimba said she has been approached by the national news media and “The Deported” TV mini series to tell Chris’ story to the rest of the country.
Despite the apparent hopelessness of the situation, Chris Matimba is trying to maintain a positive outlook.
“This is a hard pill to swallow,” said Chris Matimba from jail. “I started a family here in America, have been a contributing member to society and was doing everything I was supposed to do.”
He added, “Now all of the sudden to be locked up and your life is over and the government has decided your marriage and relationship with your kids is over is extremely heartbreaking. But we believe in miracles and are just hoping for the best.”