Commentary: A Christmas Present for Victor

Victor at his Wayne State graduation. (Photo: courtesy of

Sopuruchi “Victor” Chukwueke got a gift which he describes as the “best Christmas present ever.” He is a step closer to fulfilling his dream of attending medical school, thanks to a private-relief bill introduced on his behalf by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) last year which passed both Houses of Congress earlier this week.

Successful private-relief measures are rare. As reports, Chukwueke’s bill is the only one of 83 introduced in the last two years that passed both Houses of Congress. Victor’s story, which won him this privilege, is also special.

Victor has a genetic disorder, neurofibromatosis, which caused a tumor to develop on the top and right sides of his face while he was a young boy in Nigeria. Unfortunately, his condition could not be treated in his native country.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever forget the day,” Victor said, “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.”

In 2001, a missionary nun arranged for Victor, then 15 years old, to work with an American plastic surgeon who agreed to operate on him for free. Victor left his family and came to Michigan where he’s since had six major surgeries.

Operations and family separation has not kept Victor back. Last year, he earned a degree in Biochemistry and Chemical Biology from Wayne State University and has been accepted at the University of Toledo’s College of Medicine. The problem is, Victor is undocumented. Unless his immigration status is resolved, he will not be able to attend medical school. Fortunately, Sen. Levin deemed him worthy of the special bill which, once signed by the president, will grant him permanent residency.

“Victor’s amazing courage and determination exemplify much of what is so great about our country,” Levin said in a statement. “Already, his example has enriched Michigan and our nation, but I know that his contributions to our country are only beginning.”

“This confirms my opinion that only in this country can so many miraculous and wonderful things happen to someone like me,” wrote Victor on his blog.

If only hundreds of thousands of other Dreamers like Victor were granted the same miracle of permanent residency. Although the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) gives a two-year reprieve from deportations, it does not resolve the legal status of eligible immigrants.

I do not begrudge Victor’s private bill. I am happy for him, his family, and all his friends and advocates. It cannot be denied however that so many other immigrants share Victor’s courage and determination and could just as well exemplify much of what is great in our nation. There are millions of unauthorized immigrants who have contributed much to the U.S. and could give back much more if only they had the right papers. Until immigration reform which includes a path to citizenship is passed, millions of other dreams remain on hold unless some lawmaker introduces a private bill one person at a time.

Why does it have to be this way?

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.