Akpata’s Story

aktapa green dress

In September of 1989, Akpata Adazee left her home city of Benin, Nigeria to pursue a life in the United States alongside her husband Akugbe. They also brought their four children, one of whom was not even two years old when they made the life-changing move. Yet, her family endured a separation of 10 years when Akpata was detained following a minor traffic violation. The authorities realized that she was undocumented due to an overstay following an order for voluntary deportation and she was detained for two months in a New Jersey facility. Akpata was sent back to Nigeria in the summer of 2006 without her family. Despite Akpata and her Akugbe’s pleas for asylum, Akpata’s request was denied.

When Akpata was forcibly removed, her daughter reached out to New York Justice for Our Neighbors (“NY JFON”) for help. After being assisted with her green card, she hoped to get Akpata back in the US. Unfortunately for Akpata, the deportation triggered a ten-year ban on her return. Yet, even as Akpata was deported and left without her children or husband, she never lost hope. Thankfully, she received her masters in clinical social work in 2002. Akpata recalls “I encouraged myself to look for other dimensions to sustain my life in Nigeria.” 

Tragedy again struck the Adazee family when Akugbe who was sick prior to the deportation suffered a worse shock at the separation of his wife. He died in 2007 while Akpata was in Nigeria and unable to return to the U.S. to be with her family. He was never called for an asylum hearing. 

After Akpata settled down in Nigeria, she opened a drug rehabilitation center as well as a food pantry. Through her tireless work, she has helped several hundred beneficiaries of her programs. Simultaneously, Akpata was looking for avenues to come to the U.S. from Nigeria, She recounts having to take flights to another part of Nigeria every time she had a meeting or interview for her green card. Ultimately, Akpata received a green card to be able to return to her family. 

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Attorney TJ Mills was working diligently to obtain green cards and security for three of four of Akpata’s children (The youngest was the only one born in the United States). Even with Green Cards, they still were required to wait ten long years for the return of their mother. 

Akpata says “When I finally came back to the United States, I met TJ and thanked him so much in person. He said ‘Congratulations! I’ll see you in 5 years for your naturalization!’” At the time, Akpata felt that five years seemed far away and could not imagine being a citizen. 

Despite it all, Akpata stood firm with unwavering resiliency: “When you are relocated it might seem painful and challenging. But sometimes it is a blessing. My deportation was a blessing in disguise. If I had not been sent back to Nigeria, I would not have been able to do what I have accomplished in Africa.” Akpata continues to manage her organizations from abroad and they are running successfully to this day.  In 2022, Akpata finally obtained her naturalization. “I was helped most significantly by JFON. I introduced TJ to my family without even knowing him.”

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