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Youth soccer coach facing deportation gets one-month reprieve

Agbegnigan Amouzou, center, is greeted by supporters as he exits the ICE office in Baltimore on Friday.
Agbegnigan Amouzou, center, is greeted by supporters as he exits the ICE office in Baltimore on Friday. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

Montgomery County leaders wrote impassioned letters to federal immigration authorities this week, urging them to stop deportation proceedings for a popular Silver Spring youth soccer coach who has been in the country illegally for two decades.

County Executive Marc Elrich (D) and the nine-member, all-Democratic County Council wrote letters to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to ask that Agbegnigan Amouzou be allowed to stay in the United States.

Amouzou, a former player for Togo’s national soccer team, founded the Elite Soccer Youth Development Academy in Silver Spring after coming to the United States 20 years ago. Amouzou said he asked for asylum, fearing he would be attacked for his political beliefs if he returned to Togo, but that petition was denied.

He said he was first targeted for deportation by ICE in 2013, for reasons that were not made clear this week. But he was allowed to remain in Maryland, checking in regularly with the agency. That changed last year, his lawyer said, when immigration authorities told Amouzou to bring his passport, or paperwork proving he was trying to reopen his immigration case, to a check-in that was scheduled for Friday. Immigrant advocates say such instructions often indicate that deportation is imminent.

Amouzou — who goes by his nickname, “FoFo” — arrived at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Baltimore office with a worn manila envelope full of documents under his arm. A few dozen supporters, including clergy members and the immigrant advocacy group CASA, joined him, praying, chanting and carrying signs that read “We Support FoFo” and “ICE hands off our neighbor.”

He was given another month to provide the requisite paperwork, said his attorney, Nicholas Katz. But he does not have a valid passport, and it is unclear if he has the legal grounds to apply for asylum again.

“If he is deported it would be a staggering blow to not only his family but hundreds of hard-working families whose lives he has impacted in both Montgomery and Prince George’s counties,” the council wrote in its letter, dated Thursday.

The letter said the Elite academy, which serves children from “traditionally disadvantaged backgrounds,” has expanded to provide help with education, health and other matters for the players and their families.

Elrich’s letter called Amouzou “a tremendous pillar of our community,” noting his work mentoring children as well as working as a teaching assistant in Prince George’s County helping children with special needs.

Amouzou’s potential deportation appears in line with the immigration priorities set over the last 26 months by President Trump’s administration. Longtime undocumented immigrants who, under previous policy, were permitted to stay if they checked in and avoided criminal behavior, have increasingly been targeted for deportation.

While his supporters say the quiet family man has done nothing to put himself at increased risk of ouster, he was picked up by ICE in a targeted raid on his home 2013. ICE did not provide comment or information about Amouzou’s case.

Tawabou Agouda of Silver Spring, whose 8-year-old son attends Amouzou’s soccer academy, said he took the day off from his job as a truck driver to join Amouzou in Baltimore on Friday.

“With the positive way he is living his life, I was surprised this is happening to him,” said Agouda, who also is from Togo. He said Amouzou had forged a special bond with his son, going so far as to sometimes pick him up from school to attend games. “I couldn’t believe it. I was lost.”

Rev. Matthew Braddock of Christ Congregational Church in Silver Spring, who also has a child in Amouzou’s soccer academy, questioned why the government would want to deport someone who had spent his time working to help children and their families.

“Go after the bad guys,” Braddock said.

Amouzou said he has been working for the Prince George’s school district for 16 years. He has a 15-year-old son who is a U.S. citizen because he was born in this country.

He said he is worried if he is deported to Togo, that he’ll be targeted there for his work with a Togolese diaspora group that has been outspoken against the country’s government.

“We’re going to do everything we can over the next month to explore his legal options,” Katz, a CASA attorney, said after the check-in. “They’re definitely moving toward deporting him.”

Amouzou, who spent Thursday night coaching a youth soccer game — “the only way I can forget everything,” he said — said he appreciated the temporary reprieve, and those who were supporting him.

“It went well, and it’s a big relief,” he said. “To see people behind us, that’s very nice.”