PORT TOWNSEND — Efforts to bring Walter Maphalala, a 19-year-old student, from Swaziland to the Northwest have been rejected by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services with no explanation.
Pastor Tony Brown of Trinity United Methodist Church of Port Townsend said he applied for humanitarian parole on behalf of the young man, who has albinism.
In his country, those with this condition are considered sacred and are often hunted and killed by witch doctors for their skin and hair to be used as good luck charms, Brown said. A 2017 report by a United Nations independent expert noted attacks on people with albinism in 27 counties, including Swaziland.
Walter has been followed on several occasions, and Brown and others at the orphanage in Manzini, Swaziland, where Walter has been staying said his life is in danger.
A young boy with albinism from his village was killed a couple of months ago, Brown said.
Brown said that this is an election year in Swaziland and the rituals are seen as a way to help candidates get elected.
“We applied for humanitarian parole because the International Referral Assistance Program [IRAP] and New York attorneys recommended that path,” said Brown who met Walter during a church mission to the African nation last year. “We filled out at least a hundred pages of documentation.”
The humanitarian parole program is intended to assist people in dire situations by allowing them entry into the U.S. temporarily.
Brown said at first he thought the church could sponsor Walter, but while going through the process, it was determined that an individual had to take full responsibility for him. Brown stepped up.
In addition, Alicea Riger of Bellevue, where Walter would live and go to school, had to submit full documentation as well. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Seattle, both wrote letters supporting his request.
The process to bring Walter to the United States began last September. After conferring with attorneys in December, the effort began in earnest. The application and documentation were submitted two weeks ago.
“We were told it takes six to eight weeks for a review,” Brown said. “We were told in eight days it was a no, without any reasons given.
“Here you have a 19-year old with a whole church, a pastor, New York city lawyers and two senators behind him. It’s like his case didn’t even get looked at,” Brown said.
“We were shocked. We are in a different era in the United States. Someone in the government has to do due diligence in these humanitarian cases,” he said.
Walter is no longer eligible to stay at the orphanage because of his age. His mother — who put him there for his safety — was willing to bring him back to his village, where his life is at risk, Brown said.
“Our country’s immigration policies have had an impact around the world. People are seeing human rights violations at the border and believing it isn’t safe here,” he said.
In a phone conversation Thursday, Walter’s family told Brown they were concerned that he would become a slave once he was in the United States based on false news reports and hearsay.
“It looks like our reputation as a nation is being tainted,” Brown said. “We reassured her that he would be safe and free, and she is back on board with the plan. Walter, who is an adult now, thinks this is the best thing for his survival.”
Brown said the next step is to apply for a student visa/visitor’s visa. He plans to go back to Swaziland in a few months to bring Walter back with him.
“Port Townsend and the Seattle area are a safe haven for immigrants,” he said. “We have to have him here, then seek asylum for him. We are now in uncharted territory.”
Brown is optimistic that the effort put forth will end in a positive resolution.
“Look at the words associated with the Statue of Liberty: ‘From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome. … Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …’
“This is Walter, yearning to breathe free, free from being threatened because he has a rare genetic condition.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-3225 or at [email protected]