There are options for the Zehyoue family. Political asylum. Last-minute assistance from the government. They have a lawyer. But, really, things are getting desperate.
"We're really concerned," said Anthony Zehyoue, a former LSU defensive end who played on the 2007 national championship team.
|Anthony Zehyoue (left) contributed to LSU's efforts in rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. (AP)|
Another Zehyoue child is a social worker. Two others attended Morehouse University and Southern University.
There are five Zehyoue children, four of them born in their parents' native Liberia. They've stayed here under Temporary Protective Status for almost two decades. TPS is granted to foreign nationals whose countries are at war and/or involved in human rights abuses.
But on March 31 the Zehyoue's visas expire. They are among 10,000 or so Liberians who have been living in the U.S. after fleeing their country because of civil war. For almost two decades, each president has extended the status each year. In September 2007, George Bush extended TPS 18 months. The extension runs out at the end of this month.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) co-sponsored legislation, that never made it to law, to help the Liberians. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) has an interest in the situation because of his state's large Liberian population. The Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas has been pursuing legislation on Capitol Hill.
"We want to take care of the problem once and for all," ULAA president Anthony Kesselly said. "We want a final resolution."
But wheels have to start turning, now. Liberia has stabilized, to a point. It has had an elected government now for three years. Zehyoue, though, says electricity and water can't always be relied on. The unemployment rate is at more than 50 percent. The Zehyoues and other Liberians are seeking permanent residency status in the U.S.
"I know he knows about it," said Anthony Jr. of President Obama, himself with African roots.
"Hopefully they put that [stimulus package] down a little bit to help us."
Noted New Orleans immigration attorney David Ware said, "Nothing can be enacted this quickly. They have to use the press as much as they can. If you want a Hail Mary, a Hail Mary is going to the press."
But the media has yet to pick up widely on the issue. A family that risked everything chasing the American dream would be unceremoniously deported. Anthony Sr. was at LSU in 1990, a Fulbright Scholar working on his Ph.D. Shortly after he left Liberia, the civil war escalated. Annie Zehyoue and her four children were hiding in the interior of the country when a chance meeting with a priest changed their lives.
Fr. John Thompson, from New Orleans, promised to seek out Anthony Sr. when he returned to the States. The two met at LSU and Thompson eventually returned to Liberia to help get the family out of the country.
During a weekend in which LSU hoped to land its next superstar, one of its former trench warriors was fighting for his family's future. The school entertained No. 1 recruit Bryce Brown on a recruiting visit over the weekend trying to shore up its football future. Meanwhile, it was trying to formulate a plan to help one of its legacies from the past.
Zehyoue was a walk-on for three years. Finally, as a senior, he got a scholarship. His final season in 2007 consisted of playing a handful of snaps in blowouts.
In the middle of the national championship celebration on the floor of the Superdome, Zehyoue took the time to thank me. I had written a profile of him, his family and his plight as a ramp up to that title game. March 31, 2009, seemed like a lifetime away. Now it's around the corner.
"He's going to do some wonderful things in his life," Les Miles told me back then. "He's going to be a great father and husband ... I want this to work out."
There is an anguishing asterisk to the story. The youngest Zehyoue, 15-year-old Manterrinan, doesn't have to be deported. She was born in the United States after the rest of the family had risked their lives getting here.
She could stay here in a foster home while the rest of her family is sent away. That leads to a troubling question: Is it better to stay in the relative comfort of the U.S. without your family or follow them to a war-torn country trying to rebuild?
Young Manterrinan knows nothing but America. Her family wants nothing but to stay here.
"I'm confident that it will [be resolved]," Anthony Jr. said. "But you're never sure."