As White House Tightens Asylum Standards, Connecticut Artist From The Congo Is Allowed To Stay

Mar 13, 2018

A Middletown resident who was incarcerated in his native Democratic Republic of Congo for creating political theater has been just granted asylum in the U.S. This comes as the Trump administration is making moves to limit who gets asylum.

In Kinshasa, Toto Kisaku’s performance art drew attention to the plight of persecuted Congolese children. He was imprisoned and nearly executed by the government there.

He describes having received asylum in the U.S. as a kind of “deliverance,” that allows him to focus attention back on his work. “Without the asylum it’s like you don’t exist,” he said. “So for me, receiving asylum, what I can say? I recover my, you know, like my soul and my spirit.”

In an effort to eliminate what U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called “rampant fraud and abuse” on asylum applications, the Trump administration has been discreetly working to change the rules that determine who qualifies.

Kisaku worked with law students and advisors at Quinnipiac University on his case.

Visiting Associate Professor Sheila Hayre said many asylum seekers have endured trauma, and don’t want to speak publicly about their stories. “But Toto was really special in that sense,” she said, “because his mission in life was to learn about injustice and to bring it to light.”

After first arriving in the U.S. Kisaku said it was hard to write the story of his imprisonment because it brought back memories. “But when I took the decision to change the form to theater, that made me feel very, very strong,” he said. “So I say, ‘OK, now I have to write like a weapon. Like a bullet.’”

His new theatrical piece called “Requiem for An Electric Chair” will be featured at this year’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven.