A former Webster University student faces deportation after being held in detainment by United States immigration control.
Francis Olongo Ladege has been in custody of Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since 2015. Ladege, a former Webster student and green card resident, moved to the U.S. from South Sudan 18 years ago.
Ladege’s brother Charles Ladege said losing his brother to ICE custody has been difficult for him.
“Just losing him right now, you know, having him leave has been really hard on me,” Charles Ladege said. “I’m really more secluded now. It’s pretty hard to let my emotions out.”
ICE arrested Francis Ladege in October 2015 and sent him to a detainment center in Montgomery County, Mo. ICE has moved Ladege to eight different detainment facilities since 2015 and currently has him detained in a facility in La Paloma, Texas. ICE canceled his scheduled March 2 deportation flight to South Sudan for unknown reasons.
Francis Ladege came to the U.S. in 1999 with his brother, sister and grandparents and received his residency card in 2003.
Francis and Charles Ladege lived in Kentucky with their grandparents. When their grandparents moved to St. Louis, the brothers followed after graduating from high school.
Francis Ladege took classes at Webster in 2009 for one semester and then spent several more at St. Louis Community College at Meramec. There he met and studied under Christine Salamone. Salamone would become an “American mom” and help to support the Ladege brothers.
He started working at World of Wings (WOW) at Webster University. Charles Ladege worked at Freshens at the time. Charles and Francis Ladege also worked together at Highway 61 in downtown Webster Groves.
“He’s not just a brother to me, he’s my best friend,” Charles Ladege said. “We never really fought, you know how brothers do. Me and him, we’re half brothers. I don’t know if that makes a difference.”
While living with their grandparents, the Ladege brothers helped take care of their grandfather when he was diagnosed with diabetes. Charles Ladege said he and his brother would also give money they earned from working to their grandfather. Their grandfather would mail the money to Uganda to help support their mother in a Ugandan refugee camp.
Charles Ladege said his brother made friends and liked partying. Francis Ladege would spend time at Weber’s Front Row in Webster Groves playing darts and meeting new people.
In 2014, Francis Ladege decided to move out of his grandparents house. He and a roommate moved into an apartment in the Crestwood area of St. Louis County.
“After that I wasn’t really watching the things he did behind closed doors,” Charles Ladege said.
June 2014 incidents
On June 11, 2014, Crestwood police arrested and charged Francis Ladege with possession of marijuana. He was released when his brother paid his bond.
The St. Louis County Police Department (SLCPD) also alleged Francis Ladege sold the drug on three separate occasions in June 2014.
Joshua Weber, with the SLCPD, said he had probable cause to believe Francis Ladege intended to sell marijuana on June 10 and sold marijuana to an undercover detective on June 24 and 30, according to an SLCPD charging document.
SLCPD issued a warrant to arrest Francis Ladege on Sept. 16, 2014.
Charles Ladege said Francis Ladege was working at WOW in the University Center (UC) on Sept. 18, 2014. Charles Ladege said his brother stepped outside for a 30 minute break and never came back.
“I didn’t know where he went, if he wasn’t on break maybe he went to the store, maybe he got in a car accident, you know all that goes through your mind,” Charles Ladege said. “Then I get a phone call saying he was arrested. Yeah, that was a hard time.”
The SLCPD arrested Francis Ladege and St. Louis County charged him with two counts of selling marijuana and one count of possession with the intent to distribute.
Charles Ladege said he looked for a criminal attorney to defend his brother in court. Charles Ladege hired criminal attorney Richard P. Hereford to represent Francis Ladege in court against St. Louis County.
Hereford said in cases where immigrants are tried for a crime, the court is usually willing to amend the charge to a smaller violation to keep the immigrant from being deported.
However, Hereford said Francis Ladege’s case was different. Francis Ladege was being charged with the possession and sale of marijuana. He had previously been arrested and released on bond for the same crime. Hereford said the prosecuting attorney was unwilling to amend Francis Ladege’s charge, and the court wanted to see him deported. He said Ladege would face imprisonment followed by deportation if he were to go to trial and lose.
“What happened was he was selling drugs when he was out on bond for selling drugs, which is like the worst thing you could possibly do,” Hereford said. “So the best result we could get for him would be the probation and then hope some sort of miracle would occur and that he wouldn’t be deported.”
Hereford advised Ladege to plead guilty to all three counts of felony. Hereford said the three felonies on Francis Ladege’s record would be removed after he served five years of probation and if Francis Ladege reported to his probation officer regularly.
“At this time Francis did not know his rights, or how immigration even worked. Neither did I, you know,” Charles Ladege said. “It works different if you’re not a citizen. We never knew.”
Charles Ladege said his brother was doing well after his probation started March 5, 2015. Francis Ladege stayed clear of marijuana and reported to his probation officer regularly. Charles Ladege said his brother left to report to his officer one day in October 2015. Charles Ladege said his brother was arrested by ICE agents on location.
Francis Ladege was sent to an ICE detainment facility in Montgomery County, Mo., after his arrest in 2015.
According to a statement from ICE, “[Francis Ladege’s] criminal convictions for a series of aggravated felonies in 2015 on multiple drug offenses rendered him removable.”
Salamone went with Charles Ladege to visit his brother while he was detained in Montgomery County. She said ICE allowed her to buy Francis Ladege groceries.
“He wanted candy, he wanted a boneless chicken, he wanted chips and doritos,” Salamone said. “And he wanted soda – oh my god he wanted soda.”
Francis Ladege did not receive a trial while in ICE custody. He did not know how long he would be detained.
ICE also said “repeated appeals on behalf of an alien may extend their detention in ICE custody, especially for aliens who are mandatory detention cases based on immigration law.”
Ladege was moved to an ICE detainment center located in Pine Prairie, La. in 2016.
While he was there, he attended a hearing in June of 2017. There he learned about a warrant for his arrest issued by the Crestwood Police Department in May 2015. The warrant was based on the incident of his first arrest on June 11, 2014.
Charles Ladege said he and his brother were not aware of this warrant.
ICE flew Francis Ladege to St. Louis County so he could appear in court. Francis Ladege pleaded guilty to a possession charge and received a misdemeanor count on Oct. 20, 2017.
In February 2018, Salamone reached out to immigration lawyer Michael Sharma-Crawford with Sharma-Crawford Attorneys at Law in Kansas City, Mo. Sharma-Crawford filed two motions to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to try to prevent Francis Ladege’s deportation.
The first motion was an emergency stay of removal. In this motion, Sharma-Crawford argued Francis Ladege should not be deported because he was not a threat to American society and would come to irreparable harm if deported to South Sudan.
The BIA rejected this motion in late February 2018.
The second motion was a request to reopen and remand. This motion would reopen Francis Ladege’s criminal case and reexamine his felony counts. In this motion, Sharma-Crawford argued Francis Ladege’s possession of slightly more than five grams of marijuana with the intent to gift it to another person is not an aggravated felony under federal law. Simple possession with no intent to distribute is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a minimum fine of $1,000 under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
The BIA has not yet made a decision on the second motion.
On March 2, 2018, ICE canceled Francis Ladege’s deportation flight to Sudan and instead flew him to a detainment center in La Paloma, Texas. Charles Ladege said he has already accepted his brother’s deportation back to South Sudan.
“My feelings haven’t changed,” Charles Ladege said. “I’m not sad. I just hope he’s doing good. I just want to hear from him that he made it back to Sudan. I’m not sad. I’m just more so thinking about my life now, like what I can do.”