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Zambia Immigrant Can Compete in Poetry Contest

By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 26, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Call it poetic justice.

Allan Monga, a Maine high school student, won the state's Poetry Outloud Competition. But the sponsoring organization said he could not compete at the national level because he was not a permanent resident.

Monga complained in federal court that it wasn't fair, and the judge agreed in Monga v. National Endowment for the Arts. The student provided poetry; the judge added justice.

Pending Asylum

When Monga left Zambia in 2017, he came to America seeking asylum. He received a Social Security Number and an employment authorization to stay until 2020, but he cannot apply for permanent residency until his asylum application is approved.

After the National Endowment for the Arts disqualified him from the national competition, Monga alleged the organization violated his equal protection rights. He asked the judge to allow him to participate, saying it was not fair to allow only specific types of legal residents to compete.

Judge John Woodcock, Jr. ordered the NEA to let Monga in. He cited the organization's goal of promoting creative and cultural diversity.

"It would seem that the participation of Mr. Monga, a talented young man raised in Zambia, in the national finals is an outcome that actually advances these priorities," he said.

"In the Desert"

Monga distinguished himself as "an extraordinary poet," the judge said. One of his readings was "In the Desert," by Stephen Crane.

It is about a bestial creature eating his heart. "Is it good, friend?"

"It is bitter -- bitter," he answered. "But I like it because it is bitter, and because it is my heart."

As Monga goes on in the competition, residents in Zambia's capitol riot over government measures to stave off a cholera crisis.

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