NEA Ordered to Allow Immigrant to Compete in Poetry Contest

PORTLAND, Maine (CN) – A federal judge ordered the National Endowment of the Arts and its national Poetry Out Loud competition to allow Maine’s state winner, an immigrant from Zambia seeking asylum, to participate, just in time for the start.

Allan Monga, a Maine high school student who is in the process of obtaining asylee status, sued the NEA after being informed that despite winning the Poetry Out Loud competition at the regional and state level, he would not be permitted to compete at the national level.

Monga who arrived in Portland, Maine from Zambia in 2017, was barred because he is not yet technically a legal permanent resident, despite having already started the years-long process to gain legal asylum.

In an April 20 decision, U.S. District Judge John Woodcock Jr. cited the NEA’s own stated goal of promoting creative and cultural diversity in declaring that allowing Monga to compete in the organization’s national poetry reading competition was in the best interest of the NEA.

“It would seem that the participation of Mr. Monga, a talented young man raised in Zambia, in the national finals as an outcome that actually advances these priorities. The Court finds that the balance of the relevant impositions tips toward Mr. Monga,” the ruling said.

Monga, along with Portland Public Schools, sued the NEA on April 11, seeking an injunction that would allow Monga to compete. They are represented by Melissa Hewey of Drummond Woodsum.

Seeking political asylum can be a lengthy process, often taking years. Once the political asylum application, known as an I-589, has been submitted, the asylum-seeker is legally in the country, awaiting adjudication.

Monga has applied for asylum, and obtained an employment authorization card that is valid until 2020 and a Social Security number, but he cannot begin the process of applying for permanent residency until his asylee status is approved.

Monga and the Portland Public Schools said that the National Endowment of the Arts’ exclusion rule violates equal-protection guarantees of the Fifth and 14th Amendments, by specifying that only specific types of legal residents can participate.

Aside from granting Monga the opportunity to compete, the judge dismissed claims from Portland Public Schools, arguing that the school system’s claim seeking protection for future students who might want to compete, is not quite the same as Monga’s demands to take part in this year’s competition.

“In short, the Court’s ruling in favor of Mr. Monga is not a harbinger of rulings to come, one way or the other,” the ruling said.

The National Endowment for the Arts did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

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