AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – A man who was facing deportation was granted asylum on Tuesday and released from the Immigration & Customs detention facility in Aurora.
With a large garbage bag full of belonging slung over his shoulder, Martin Akwa couldn’t walk fast enough across the back parking lot of the detention center.
“Hi Dad!” he shouted when he saw his Colorado family.
Darren Straus isn’t Akwa’s real father, but he hugged the 32-year-old man as if he were his only son.
“You did it. You did it,” Darren said as he – along with his wife and daughter — embraced Martin. “It’s so good to see you.”
It was a moment the Straus’ never thought would happen.
“We didn’t think his chances were great, honestly,” Darren said.
Martin left Cameroon in 2017, fleeing from intense violence in his home country. He made his way to Ecuador and then endured a nearly four-month journey to the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego. From there Akwa was sent to the Aurora ICE detention facility while awaiting an asylum hearing. He represented himself and lost his initial asylum case. Martin was facing deportation when the Straus family met him.
They asked for his release and, in October last year, he moved into their Highlands Ranch home.
“He wanted to clean the house, the whole house, all day everyday as his way of paying rent so to speak,” Darren told CBS4 this spring. “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 was started and thousands signed an online petition to have his case reopened, this time with proper representation.
After months of waiting, a judge granted Martin’s second request for asylum.
“I was only crying,” Martin told CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann of his reaction to the decision. “I was amazed. I really do appreciate the judge. She is kind. She is sympathetic.”
Martin said his time spent in and out of the detention center was a living hell, but believed if he were deported to Cameroon it was a guaranteed death sentence. He often prayed for a miracle, and relied on the letters he received every day from the community to give him hope.
“Can you see that?” he asked, ripping open the garbage bag he carried out and showing the hundreds of letters inside. “Not every day, every second!”
It’s the kind of community Martin said he is anxious to be part of once again.
“They are so kind to me,” he said.
But he’s even happier to be back with the Straus family.
“I missed them more than they missed me,” he said with a big smile.
Martin will be eligible for a green card in one year, and he said he’s excited to then apply for citizenship in five years.