Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
Ground Zero for Columbus Day
Michael a. de Yoanna
W. michael byrd and linda a. Clayton
ICFTU Global Day of Action â€¦
Miriam ching yoon Louie
Talking About Myths, Heroes, And â€¦
Gay and Lesbian Community Notes
Q & A
Stephen R. Shalom
There are no articles.
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
Conspiracy in New Hampshire
Once a favorite tool of the Justice Department during the Nixon administration, the federal Conspiracy Statute has resurfaced in a sinister new form and in a most unlikely place: the conservative countryside of southwestern New Hampshire. In the solidly Republican town of Milford, on the morning of December 22, 2000, heavily-armed agents of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service surrounded a house in a quiet neighborhood.
The objective was to serve an arrest warrant for criminal conspiracy on Wanjiku Thiongo, a Kenyan woman who has lived legally in the United States for 23 years. Her husband Sammy, an engineer, is a naturalized U.S. citizen and their four American-born children are citizens by right. Their oldest son, Ben, is a student at Emerson College in Boston. Two other children, Njuguna and Nyambura attend Phillips Exeter Academy, where Njuguna was recently elected senior class president. Their youngest, Moe, attends the Fenn School in Concord, Massachusetts. This is a family that exemplifies the American Dream, thriving on hard work and rigorous education.
Wanjiku has worked (legally she had a green card until the INS confiscated it after her arrest) for two decades as an educator and community organizer, promoting cultural exchange programs between her native Kenya and her adopted home. After completing all the requirements for U.S. citizenship, and while awaiting a date for her official swearing-in as a full citizen of our country, Wanjiku was instead indicted by the U.S. Attorney for New Hampshire on the charge of Conspiracy to Commit Visa Fraud. If convicted, she will be imprisoned pending deportation to Kenya, under the terms of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act that President Clinton signed into law in 1996 and that the INS has been aggressively enforcing ever since.
The INS is alleging not that Wanjiku violated the conditions of her own visa or immigrant status, but that she encouraged other Kenyans to do so. The context is immigration law, but the actual charge against her is criminal conspiracy. According to the U.S. Criminal Code, conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor is a felony. If you and a friend, while waiting to cross a city street, discuss the possibility of jaywalking, and if you then take a step toward the street, you have “conspired with one or more persons, known or unknown…” to violate a law, and have performed an “act in furtherance” of the planned violation. That's all it takes.
Why has Wanjiku become the target of heavy-handed oppression by the INS? Her friends in New Hampshire are convinced that it's because she's an African working for justice and human rights. That's her only “crime.” The defense attorneys who have reviewed the facts in Wanjiku's case have been struck by the flimsiness, even silliness, of the government's case and by the government's overly zealous pre-trial tactics.
The government's case against her stems from her community organizing and cultural exchange work with various constituent groups over the years—women, students, dairy farmers—for whom she has organized exchange visits between the United States and Kenya. Scores of Kenyans have visited our country on temporary visas and scores of Americans have visited Kenya on temporary visas. Now our government claims that some of the Kenyans overstayed their visas and is blaming this on Wanjiku, despite the fact that she required all program participants to obtain round-trip tickets before embarking on their travels. The dairy exchange programs in the U.S. were hosted by the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery in Vermont and New Hampshire Congressperson Charlie Bass's office routinely helped to expedite the issuance of visas through the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. Does this sound like a criminal conspiracy?
According to the indictment, Wanjiku conspired with others to obtain visas “fraudulently,” and the “act in furtherance” was a statement on some of the visa applications that the program participants would be staying at a particular motel (e.g., Days Inn in Nashua) on specified dates. But the U.S. State Department took so long to issue the visas that the program travel plans, including the motel schedules, had to be changed by the time the visas were issued. So the participants didn't stay at the Days Inn on the dates listed in their visa applications. That's the alleged fraud and that's the government's entire case against Wanjiku.
The federal conspiracy statutes first came to prominence during the reign of John Mitchell, Nixon's Attorney General, in 1969. With the enthusiastic support of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, Mitchell ordered the Justice Department to indict Dr. Benjamin Spock, Catholic peace activists, Black Panthers, and protest organizers at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, to name just a few. As America's assault on Southeast Asia escalated, domestic enemies of the state were identified and monitored not just by the FBI and various local and state police intelligence units, but also (we now know) by the CIA, the NSA, and the intelligence sections of the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force.
While it may be easy to dismiss the excesses of a discredited Administration long out of power, it's much harder to understand the current anti-immigrant hysteria as anything more than crude xenophobia and racism. The INS consistently shows a callous disregard for human life along the U.S.-Mexican border. But there have been no reports of Grand Jury investigations or conspiracy indictments against the corporate farmers who rely on illegal immigrants to harvest America's food. The most prestigious American universities routinely recruit scholars and athletes from foreign countries and some of these “aliens” overstay their visas. But neither Harvard, Stanford, or the University of Michigan has been charged with Conspiracy to Commit Visa Fraud, even though they all encourage foreign nationals to enter the U.S. and to participate in ongoing programs.
With the case of United States of America v. Wanjiku Thiongo, however, the government is sparing no expense in protecting the Republic from this gentle person and community organizer. INS investigators have fanned out across New England, interrogating Kenyan immigrants and offering green cards to anyone who will “cooperate” and testify against Wanjiku.
The good news is that, even in conservative New Hampshire, citizens are rallying to support Wanjiku and her family. The Unitarian Universalist Church in Milford is leading the effort to organize community support. Doug Grant, chair of their Social Responsibility Committee, has an informational website at people.ne.mediaone.net/douggrant/wanjiku.htm. And the UU Church is custodian of the Wanjiku Thiongo Legal Defense Fund, a tangible indicator of community support that is small but is steadily growing.
Even if Wanjiku is acquitted, she and her family will have paid a heavy price. In small-town New Hampshire, their name will be associated with charges of criminal conspiracy. Tens of thousands of dollars, all of their personal savings as well as scores of private donations, will have gone toward legal fees. Money and energy that could have strengthened our society through community organizing will instead have been spent to buy a small measure of justice. Z
Ted Wilkinson develops affordable housing in the Granite State. He is adjunct professor at the Southern New Hampshire University School of Community Economic Development.