Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 July 2019

The 'Black Panther' actor who is an undocumented 'Dreamer'

Bambadjan Bamba is one of 700,000 "Dreamers" - immigrants brought illegally to America as children who were protected by the Obama-era DACA programme

Bambadjan Bamba is living in limbo as an undocumented immigrant. AFP 
Bambadjan Bamba is living in limbo as an undocumented immigrant. AFP 

On the hit sitcom The Good Place, Bambadjan Bamba plays an eternal being in the afterlife. In reality, the Ivorian actor is living in limbo in the United States as an undocumented immigrant.

The 36-year-old Bamba, who most recently appeared in Black Panther, is one of 700,000 "Dreamers" - immigrants brought illegally to America as children who were protected by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme.

"For a while, I wanted to share my story but I was paralysed in fear," he said as he picked up a human rights award in Los Angeles from the American Civil Liberties Union.

"I just didn't want to ruffle any feathers. I didn't want to put my career on the line, and even my family on the line."

Bamba's family fled political instability in the west African state of Ivory Coast in 1993 and he arrived in the US when he was 10.

Bamba then spent his teenage years between New York's South Bronx and Richmond, Virginia.

The young French speaker learned English quickly and got into New York's Conservatory for Dramatic Arts, driving taxis to pay the fees.

It was during the college applications process, when Bamba was thinking about financial aid, that his parents revealed they had no legal status in the United States.

They were eventually granted political asylum, but Bamba was 21 by then - too old to share the new rights they had won.

'A lot of fear'

Despite his undocumented status, the aspiring star began picking up acting jobs and has appeared in more than two dozen television shows such as Law and Order, ER and Grey's Anatomy.

In 2016, he secured a recurring part as a human rights activist and secret celestial torturer in NBC sitcom The Good Place, and has since appeared in small roles in two comic book blockbusters - Black Panther and Suicide Squad.

Like thousands in his situation, Bamba felt like his world had collapsed when President Donald Trump cancelled the DACA program last year, leaving Dreamers vulnerable to deportation at any moment.

The court system has ordered that the scheme continue, but the uncertainty surrounding their status remains. "It has really been volatile. There's so much uncertainty in our communities. There's a lot of fear and we don't know what's going to happen next," he said.

"Most of us have families, degrees, have careers, have made our lives here, and we really don't know what's going to happen month to month."

Bamba had told very few people of his citizenship status but decided to speak out in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in November of last year.

"I have a wife and a daughter. She's one-and-a-half years old. Back in November, that really spurred my decision," Bamba said.

"I looked at her and I wanted her to know her father stood for something and stood for her, especially right now when families are being torn apart at the border."

Dark cloud hanging over the Dreamers

Bamba says friends and colleagues have been incredibly supportive since his revelation and his fears that it would nix his career turned out to be unfounded.

He told the LA Times his biggest worry was being hauled off set by immigration officials during a shoot. He works a lot in Canada or elsewhere abroad but always worries about getting back into the United States.

The Republican-led Congress failed earlier this year to pass immigration reform proposals, including one championed by Trump that would have resolved the legal status of 1.8 million migrants.

Lawmakers are working on a new solution that would include measures to boost border security and reform legal immigration but, for the time being, the uncertainty is a dark cloud hanging over the Dreamers.

"I'm still being vocal but, to my surprise - I guess this was a little naive of me - I thought we would have a solution by now. I thought we would have a Dream Act passed by now," said Bamba.

"I thought, with the government shutdowns and all those things that happened, that we would have something on the table. So the fact that we don't have anything helps me know that the fight continues and that I have to continue to do my part."


Read more:

Tens of millions of us seek a home away from home – but migrants are easy targets for 'the race card'

Afghan interpreters win right to remain in Britain

British Home Secretary resigns over Windrush scandal


Updated: June 14, 2018 12:40 PM