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Obama signs bill to grant Nigerian student U.S. permanent residency

Victor Chukwueke (second from the left) is shown with his surgeon, Dr. Ian Jackson, the doctor's wife and the nun who has cared for him since he came to the United States.

Story highlights

  • Victor Chukwueke's visa expires after he comes to the U.S. for treatment of face tumors
  • He plans to attend an Ohio medical school that requires him to have a green card
  • A Michigan senator introduces a private bill to grant him a green card
  • In a rare act, Congress passes the bill this month

A Nigerian immigrant's dream came true when President Barack Obama signed into law a rare private bill granting him permanent residency in the Unites States.

Victor Chukwueke, who lives in Michigan on an expired visa, came to the United States 11 years ago to undergo treatment for massive face tumors.

He graduated from a university in the state, and plans to attend an Ohio medical school that requires him to have permanent residency, also known as a green card.

In a rare act, the United States Congress passed a private bill this month granting him permanent residency. Obama signed the bill Friday.

Private bills -- which only apply to one person and mostly focus on immigration -- are rarely approved. His is the only one to pass in Congress in two years.

"I was overwhelmed with joy; it was nothing less than a miracle," the 26-year-old says. "Only in this country can so many miraculous and wonderful things happen to someone like me."

    Before coming to the United States at age 15, Chukwueke lived in the southeastern Nigeria town of Ovim.

    Victor Chukwueke attends his graduation at Wayne State University, where he served as commencement speaker.

    He suffers from neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes massive life-threatening tumors on his face.

    Treated as an outcast because of his deformed face, he was depressed and humiliated, he says. His family abandoned him at an orphanage after taking him to the nation's best facilities for treatment.

    "I went to a large teaching hospital in Nigeria and the doctor touched my face and said there was nothing they could do," he says. " I cried and begged him to do something. I was so tired of the humiliation."

    Nuns from the Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy rescued him from the orphanage in 2001 and arranged for a Michigan doctor to perform surgery on him.

    He considers himself lucky to have developed the tumors.

    "Without them, I would not have met the nun, left Nigeria, arrived in the U.S. and had the miracle to attend medical school," he says.

    He lives with the nuns in Oak Park, Michigan. They have cared for him since he came to the U.S., where he has undergone seven surgeries, including one that left him blind in the right eye.

    Despite the obstacles, he remains committed to getting an education.

    He finished his GED -- the equivalent of a high school education -- while undergoing treatment and enrolled at a community college.

    A benefactor helped him attend Wayne State University, where he graduated last year with a bachelor's in biochemistry and chemical biology. He had a 3.82 GPA and gave the university's commencement speech.

    "Should I call myself a victim, or should I press forward to my dreams?" he asked during the speech amid thunderous applause.

    Soon after his graduation, the University of Toledo in Ohio admitted him to medical school. The only hurdle: The program requires him to have permanent residency status.

    With Obama's signature, his wish has come true.

    "My own personal struggles to receive treatment have motivated and encouraged me to pursue a medical career ... to alleviate the pain and suffering of others," he says. "A medical career will allow me many gratifying years of making a difference in the health and lives of others."

    Chukwueke's journey to get legalized has seen many strangers rally to his help.

    Inspired by his story, Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, sponsored the bill, S. 285. The measure passed the Senate in the summer and the House this week.

    Attorney Thomas K. Ragland took his case pro bono.

    "Victor's story is remarkable," says Ragland, who is based in Washington D.C. "Here is this kid who comes from Nigeria, he was taunted and teased for his diseases, and he comes to this country and excels, despite so many surgeries. It is a testament of not letting anything get in the way."

    The number of illegal immigrants in the United States was estimated at 11.5 million last year.

    Following the signature, the State Department will reduce by one the number of immigrant visas available to Nigerians.

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