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Gwamnas give face to immigration issue

Published: Monday, June 24, 2013 11:20 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, June 24, 2013 12:05 p.m. CDT

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With all the flap nowadays about immigration and the American Dream becoming a myth, I’d like to introduce you to Bitrus and Olabisi (Bisi) Gwamna, of Mt. Pleasant. 

They are from Nigeria, and both have PhD’s.  Bitrus is a professor of communications at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mt. Pleasant, and his wife, Bisi, is an adjunct professor of English at Southeastern Community College in Burlington, and an online instructor with Keiser University in Florida.

They have four boys, all born in the United States.  Bitrus has been blind since birth.  In 2011 he underwent a kidney transplant after five months of dialysis.  On May 24th of this year, after residing in the U.S. for 27 years, Bitrus and Bisi Gwamna finally became US Citizens.

The path to citizenship has obviously not been easy.  Both Bitrus and Bisi had college degrees when they came to the United States on student visas.  Once they completed their PhD’s at Ohio University in Athens, they were given one year to find employment, whereby their student visas would turn to work visas, or the Green Card. 

They were not able to find work in that amount of time and faced possible deportation, which would have been tragic, since all four of their boys had been born in the United States. Trips to the immigration office to plead for an extension often proved fruitless and very frustrating. Many times the immigration officials would deny their appeal without even looking at their file.

Bitrus and Bisi can understand why many immigrants choose the illegal route, since the legal path can be so difficult and expensive (citizenship cost the Gwamna’s $1,400). They compared it to driving on the interstate highway system. If you miss your turnoff, you have to go miles out of your way to get back on course. That’s why you sometimes see drivers making illegal U-turns.

Fortunately, in 2001, Bitrus began teaching part time at Iowa Wesleyan College and was awarded the coveted Green Card (it’s not green, by the way). Then, in 2005, they became permanent residents.

Citizenship came this year. They can now vote in an election! They don’t have to carry their passports! They can even pledge allegiance at Rotary Club meetings (Bitrus is a past president of the Rotary Club in Mt. Pleasant, as well as a member of the Knights of Columbus). In short, citizenship has made them feel complete.

According to Bitrus and Bisi Gwamna, one thing that makes the United States great, is that there is hope. Hope for a better life, hope for improving one’s self, hope for a better world. 

“You only get out of life, what you put into it. It is through people that you see God. We need to be appreciative of our opportunities. It was because of an anonymous donor that we were able to get our PhD’s. To show our appreciation, we are ready to fully serve in any social-political capacity. If the United States ever goes belly up, the rest of the world has no chance of success.”

The Gwamnas would rather see the United States use it’s “soft power,” in helping the world, rather than it’s military might.  They also wish that American politics wasn’t so polarizing.

Olabisi Gwamna has a collection of short stories, “Dancing With Shadows” that is available at Amazon.com. Issues regarding women, especially how they are depicted in literature, is one of her main topics.

Another of her books, “My House is on Top of My Roof,” is a must read for expectant mothers. She has also co-written a play, and is working on a novel.

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