WILLIAMSTON, Mich. — Zakaria Mohamed left Somalia as a refugee at 16 and found a home in Williamston.
“When I first met Zakaria he was just one of those people you have a connection with,” said Kimberly O'Brien. She and her husband Corey adopted Mohamed when he was 18.
But after just 18 months with the O'Brien family, Mohamed fled to Canada for fear of being deported back to Somalia.
The organization Samaritas helped Mohamed resettle in Michigan.
"Our program is designed to serve unaccompanied refugee youth who have fled their home countries due to war, violence, persecution and are searching for safety somewhere else,” said Samaritas Community Outreach Coordinator Michelle Haskell.
As they age out of the foster care system, they're places in home that can help them gain independence.
That's exactly what O'Brien was trying to do when Zakaria came into their family.
"I want him to have the opportunity to thrive,” O'Brien said.
The O'Brien family committed to taking care of him as he waited for his Special Juvenile Immigrant status to be approved. Then, in 2019, he received a letter, just not the one they were all hoping for.
“We had a great dinner and got home and one of the kids ran to the mail box and I was like 'Oh maybe it’s your documentation,'” O'Brien said. “He opened it and basically you have 10 days or something and you have an appointment to report and we just felt sick.”
The letter came from the Immigration Deportation and Detention office, saying he was being deported back to Somalia in 10 days. O'Brien thought she could persuade the court system to let him stay, but deep down they knew it wouldn't work.
"I thought, 'We’ll just go and tell them you’re an amazing person and you’re not a drain on the government and you’re not a danger to anyone,'" she said. “He was just like, 'It doesn’t work that way, Kim.'”
So, Zakaria fled.
“He basically sent my husband and I a Facebook message that said 'I need a couple of days. Just know that I love you so much and that will never change,'" O'Brien said.
Now he's in Canada where he's waiting to return to the U.S. for a court date in May that will determine whether his case for citizenship will reopen.
“That could look like, from anything between deportation to Somalia, taken into custody for deportation to Somalia or okay let’s see if we can get this paperwork moved forward that should have been moved forward to begin with,” O'Brien said.
O'Brien said she's happy the Biden Administration is taking a different approach to immigration, but knows they still have a long journey ahead of them.
Mohamed didn't want to do an interview, but said in a statement to FOX 47 that his wish is just to be treated fairly.
"I wish that immigrants are considered as people with passions and dreams that have been broken and, yet, remain hopeful. And just not as people who don't have emotions,” he wrote.
Now, they're just hoping their family can be together again one day.