- Associated Press - Sunday, October 5, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa family is fighting the Des Moines school district’s refusal to enroll the Rwandan immigrant they are caring for because of questions about his immigration status.

The district’s lawyer, Andrew Bracken, told the Des Moines Register (https://dmreg.co/1s0908x ) it appears that Habibu “Habi” Moise Habienza’s legal residence remains with his family in Rwanda, so Des Moines won’t enroll him.

“If they still have a home elsewhere, then they still have residency back where they came from,” Bracken said.

The 16-year-old’s guardians, Ray and Carrie Bening, are appealing to the Iowa Board of Education because they say the boy’s immigration status shouldn’t be an issue.

University of Iowa immigration law professor Stella Elias said children are entitled to an education regardless of how they came to be in the country.



“There’s really no reason for a school to inquire into immigration status,” Elias said.

The Benings have tried three times since last December to enroll Habi in school, and they were denied each time because Habi’s student visa isn’t valid.

Bracken said he doesn’t know if anyone asked Habi’s immigration status initially, but it’s not unusual for new immigrants to volunteer information when they enroll.

“… We understand that Habibu has overstayed his visa and the host family has indicated that Habibu does not intend to return to Rwanda,” Bracken wrote in an August letter refusing enrollment.

But the boy’s guardians say Habi had to flee his country for his safety.

Julie Ghrist, another one of his guardians, met Habi in 2006 while she was operating a nonprofit called Art of Conservation in his Rwandan neighborhood. Ghrist said she believes Habi is at physical risk if he returns home. Among other concerns, she fears rebel groups might recruit him.

She helped arrange for Habi to come to the United States in 2013 to pursue tennis training. He is one of the middle children of eight in a polygamous family, and Ghrist said his father earns about $50 a month as a gardener.

During this dispute, the Benings enrolled Habi in the West Des Moines school district, but they are paying tuition since they don’t live in that district. That could add up to about $6,121 a year.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, https://www.desmoinesregister.com

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