A "one-man Dream Act" for Michigan grad

Dec 20, 2012

Maybe this will finally do something for Congress’ approval ratings. This week, lawmakers passed a rare, “one-man Dream Act” for a Nigerian student living in Michigan.

Victor Chukwueke (say “chew-KWEK-ay”) was born with a severe genetic disorder that causes facial tumors. Doctors in Nigeria told him there was nothing they could do for his life-threatening condition.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever forget the day,” Victor is quoted as saying on victorshope.org, a website dedicated to sharing his story. “I went to a large teaching hospital in Nigeria and the doctor touched my face and told me there was nothing they could do. I cried and begged him to do something; I was so tired of the humiliation.”

But his life took a turn when missionary nuns arranged for him to be treated in Michigan. There, a Southfield surgeon was willing to operate on Victor for free. So at the age of 15, Victor left his family behind in Nigeria and traveled to the US.    

Seven major surgeries later, Victor is still living with the nuns, and has graduated from Wayne State University with degrees in Biochemistry and Chemical Biology. A dean’s list student, he volunteered in the chemistry and pathology labs, and was chosen to speak at his commencement ceremony. Here’s what makes that particularly impressive: Victor’s tumors and surgeries have disfigured his face, severely hampering his speech.   

Still, with dreams of becoming a surgeon himself, Victory was accepted into the University of Toledo medical school…on one condition: he had to become a legal resident of the United States.

Victor’s visa expired 10 years ago, and he’s been living here illegally ever since. His advocates, including Detroit businessmen and Wayne State University, worked with Michigan Senator Carl Levin for more than a year. Their goal: get a bill passed that allows Victor – and Victor alone – to get a green card.

These bills aren’t unheard of, but they’re long shots. According to other media reports, about 83 similar bills were filed recently, but getting them passed is another story. These “private relief” laws, as they’re known, allow an individual to apply for permanent US residency. Of the 83 bills proposed, only one made it through both the Senate and the House: Victor’s bill.

“It’s like a dream,” he told Michigan Radio this week, just 24 hours after getting the news. “ I was so happy yesterday, oh man, yeah. I was so happy.”

Victory says he rushed to call his friends and advocates and share the news. He even placed a call to his family in Nigera – they speak a couple times a month – but couldn’t get in touch with them.

Despite his condition and the years he’s spent away from his family, Victor says he never sees himself as a victim. “I’ve been very fortunate in my life. You can’t control what happens to you. You can only control what your reactions will be.”

Victor’s bill now goes to President Obama’s desk for approval.