Journey to Asylum: the Story of Dzebel Pele
When Dzebel Pele was eleven years old, he fled the violent revolution in his native Republic of Congo with his father, Albert, and all of their family members that could manage to get away. Three of those who stayed behind, including the boy's grandmother, were killed shortly thereafter when the Cobra rebels bombed the family home. The rebels were taking their revenge against anyone who, like Dzebel's father, supported Pascal Lissouba's government and was a member of the Mbembe tribe.
The family made its way to the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997 to begin life as refugees. But Albert had other plans for Dzebel and, in 2000, made his way with the boy via Paris to the United States, asking for political asylum.
Albert Pele sought the aid of the Midwest Immigration Human Rights Center (now part of the National Immigration Justice Center Asylum Project) and the Center put him together with Scott Henry of Segal McCambridge to help him pursue his asylum claim on a pro bono basis. Meanwhile, with few resources, father and son tried to forge a new life in the U.S.
Dzebel enrolled in school, ultimately graduating high school on time and enrolling in Truman College, all while holding down a 30-hour per week job.
But the road to asylum was not easy, and it was made harder by Albert's death in 2004, leaving the boy to pursue his claim on his own.
At first, the government maintained the Republic of Congo had become safe, and that Dzebel could go back without fear. On Dzebel's behalf Scott questioned that contention, and secured supporting testimony from an African affairs expert.
The case was complicated by a brush with the law when Dzebel was arrested for jumping a CTA turnstile to visit his dying father in the hospital (a charge which ultimately was dropped). The paperwork from his arrest showed that Dzebel had given his country of origin as the Democratic Republic of Congo, i.e., the country to which he first had fled, and not the Republic of Congo, i.e., the country from which he had been running.
Also, the FBI contended that the birth certificate the 14-year-old Dzebel had presented upon his entrance into the U.S. was not authentic.
Hashing out these issues was not a simple process. Scott appeared before the judge at least 15 times in this case, and virtually every time he was opposed by a different government legal team. Finally in the fall of 2008, the judge allowed Dzebel to tell his story under oath and accepted the testimony of the African affairs expert. Upon hearing the evidence and testimony, the judge granted Dzebel political asylum. In a year, he can become a legal U.S. resident, and he is continuing his studies at Truman College.