AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) - Community members are hoping a powerful campaign can reverse the fortunes of a man facing deportation.
"He was in bad shape, he was confused, he had no idea why he was basically in prison. Locked up with no hope. We just got sucked into to his story and his plight," said Darren Straus and advocate for Martin Akwa.
Akwa left Cameroon in 2017, fleeing from violence. He made his way to Ecuador and then on a nearly four-month journey to the U.S. Mexico border in San Diego. He was then sent to the Aurora ICE detention facility while awaiting an asylum hearing.
"It's painful to hear their stories and see in their eyes that they don't know what's happening and they don't have a lot of hope," Straus said.
Akwa represented himself and lost his asylum case. He was facing deportation when the Straus's met him. They asked for his release, and in October moved into their house.
"He was like an older protective brother. We would get into fights a lot over the most random and stupid things," Asella Straus said.
"He wanted to clean the house, the whole house, all day everyday as his way of paying rent so to speak," Darren said. "He's been able to tell his story in churches, to community to friends to family, and really broaden people's minds about how this is really working."
Akwa had begun helping friends and neighbors wherever he could. He joined a soccer team and became involved with his church.
In April, during what was presumed to be a routine check-in with ICE, friends say Akwa was taken back into custody and is facing deportation. A Facebook campaign has begun and thousands have signed an online petition to have his case reopened, this time with proper representation.
"In his words, 'they might as well just kill me here because if you send me back, I'll be killed,'" Darren said. "People like Martin; he'll do well if we let him. He'll contribute, he'll do great things but we have to get him there."
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