Wichita The son of a Kansas man accused of lying to immigration officials about his participation in the 1994 Rwandan genocide took the stand Monday to testify about their life as Burundian refugees in Rwanda and his father’s efforts years later to become a U.S. citizen.
That testimony came as the defense team for Lazare Kobagaya began laying out its case. The 84-year-old Topeka man is charged with unlawfully obtaining U.S. citizenship in 2006 and with fraud and misuse of an alien registration card. The indictment also seeks to revoke his citizenship.
Prosecutors have said the case is the first in the nation requiring proof of genocide. An estimated 500,000 to 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda between April and July 1994. Most of the dead belonged to an ethnic group known as the Tutsi, while most of the killings were carried out by members of an ethnic group known as the Hutu.
Jean Claude Kandagaye testified that his father is a Hutu and his mother is a Tutsi. Kandagaye told jurors that while he was growing up in Rwanda, his family was discriminated against because they were Burundian refugees. As refugees, they could not join political parties, attend public secondary schools or get some jobs and social services. However, his family received some benefits from a United Nations commission for refugees that native Rwandans could not get.
Kandagaye told jurors that as a refugee his father was not a leader in the Rwandan community where they lived — a key point as the defense team tries to counter the government’s allegations that Kobagaya was an influential community leader who led others during the genocide.
In his later testimony, Kandagaye said he was at the University of Rwanda during the genocide and did not witness the atrocities at issue in the trial in the Rwandan village known as Birambo, where his parents lived at the time.
Kandagaye, who filled out an immigration form in 2005 for his father, is considered a key witness as the defense tries to show jurors that the elderly Kobagaya did not understand English well and depended on others to translate documents and help him fill out immigration paperwork.
In cross-examination, prosecutor Christina Giffin got into evidence several immigration documents that Kandagaye acknowledged his father signed to bring other family members into the United States, including two grandchildren whom he claimed as his own children. Kandagaye said his father adopted them, but acknowledged they were not identified as such in a question that specifically asked if they were related by adoption.
Earlier in the day, prosecutors rested their case after putting on the stand as their last witness the immigration official who interviewed Kobagaya during his citizenship application in April 2006.
Adjudication officer Jeryl Bean testified that Kobagaya responded no when asked whether he had ever persecuted anyone or ever committed any crimes for which he was not convicted. Kobagaya also denied ever giving false information to immigration officials or lying to them to gain entry into the United States, she testified.
Prosecutors used Bean to attack Kobagaya’s claim that he did not purposefully misrepresent to immigration officials that he was not living in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide because he was unfamiliar with the English language and may have misunderstood that question on the immigration paperwork.