Friday, July 19, 2024

Kemboi: Name that is used to shame Kenyans hiding, living illegally in US

When you first hear the name ‘Kemboi’ being used in a conversation by Kenyans living in the United States, you might be mistaken to think that they are referring to the legendary 3,000 steeplechase Kenyan runner Ezekiel Kemboi.

However, this is a name that is used to describe Kenyans who went to the US, refused to return after the expiration of their permitted stay, and instead opted to live illegally in the States. It is not a name that is used in fondness.

In fact, it is used as a form of mockery, likening these illegal Kenyans in a foreign land to the former athlete Ezekiel Kemboi. The difference is that whereas Ezekiel Kemboi ran for the pride of his country, the illegal Kenyans in the States run to avoid arrests and deportations by government agents such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

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They are always running and hiding. And living illegally in US is not an easy race to undertake. Apparently, Bizna Kenya, has learned, you will hear legal immigrants from Kenya describing their ‘unlawful’ countrymen with phrases such as ‘Huyo ni Kemboi’ or ‘Alikuja majuu akakemboi’!

The majority of these Kembois from Kenya are people who moved to the US on visit visas in the hope that they could convert to work visas or student visas and set themselves up on the path to acquiring the coveted US green card and finally become naturalized US citizens.

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The biggest downside to this is the inability to ever return home. A Kenyan living as a Kemboi in the US shared with Bizna Kenya how a number of close family members including his parents have died and he has never come to bury any of them.

“I cannot travel home because once I leave, they will never let me back in again,” says Joseph – whose real name we have concealed. He has been living in the State of Georgia for the last 13 years. “I came with a visit visa then refused to return home. I didn’t see the point of returning. I made the bold decision to stay and find my way,” he says.

“Ever since I came, I have lost my parents, my sister, my younger brother, and a nephew. I attend their burials via YouTube lives or ask for burial photos to be sent to me. It is sad but there is nothing that I can do about it without jeopardizing my stay here.”


Granted, a few Kenyans have managed to convert their visit visas to work visas and eventually to green cards without violating any terms on their original visas. But this is not as straight as narrating the alphabetical order.

Apart from requiring an employer who will be willing to sponsor you, you might also need to be in the right State where Kembois are tolerated. Apparently, not all States welcome illegal immigrants as openly. Some of the worst States include the Southern States were racism is still rampant.

In worst case scenario, many Kembois end up filing for asylum, which buys them a couple of years to live and work in the US due to the historically backlogged asylum processing case loads in the US.

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