Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Congress Says Yes to One-Man [Sopuruchi Chukwueke] ’Dream Act’

A medicine man in Ovim, Nigeria, once recommended that Sopuruchi Chukwueke be taken away and drowned. Tumors distorted one side of his face; his parents, unable to care for him, turned him over to an orphanage.

Today, the U.S. House voted to put Chukwueke on a path to U.S. citizenship. Lawmakers sent to President Barack Obama a bill to let Chukwueke legally remain in America and pursue his dream of becoming a doctor. The Senate passed the bill in July.

“Only in this country can something this wonderful happen to someone like me,” Chukwueke said in a telephone interview from Michigan. “This is the best gift for Christmas ever.”

Chukwueke -- who is known by almost everyone as Victor, his middle name -- is the subject of a rare private-relief bill, legislation that applies only to him.

Few such bills become law. Of the 83 private-relief measures introduced in the last two years, Chukwueke’s bill, S. 285, is the only one to have been passed by both houses of Congress. Since 2007, just two others have been enacted.

The bill would grant permanent residency to Chukwueke as long as he applies for it within two years of the bill becoming law. It would reduce, by one, the number of immigrant visas available to Nigerians and would bar preferential treatment for members of his family.

“Victor’s amazing courage and determination exemplify much of what is so great about our country,” the bill’s sponsor, Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said in a statement after the House action. “Already, his example has enriched Michigan and our nation, but I know that his contributions to our country are only beginning.”

Expired Visa

Chukwueke arrived in the U.S. when he was 15, after nuns at the orphanage in Nigeria arranged for medical care in Michigan. Surgery after surgery was required to remove the tumors caused by neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder, and the visa that allowed him to come for treatment expired 10 years ago. He has been in the U.S. illegally since then.

Chukwueke, now 26, lives in the Detroit suburb of Oak Park with the Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy, a Nigeria-based order of Roman Catholic nuns who work with the poor in Africa,Europe and North America. Members of the order have cared for him since he arrived from the orphanage.

Even as he underwent seven surgeries, one of which resulted in the loss of his right eye, Chukwueke received a high-school equivalency diploma and, with the aid of a wealthy benefactor, graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit with a 3.82 average in biochemistry and chemical biology.

He was accepted at the University of Toledo’s medical school in Ohio on the condition that his visa status be resolved by the end of this year so he can start classes in August 2013.
Because the House considers private-relief bills only on the first and third Tuesdays of the month, today was the last time his bill could be passed before all legislation expires at the end of the two-year congressional session.

......Derek Wallbank/Bloomberg
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