A Deering High School student is suing the National Endowment for the Arts because he’s banned from participating in a national poetry contest due to his immigration status.

A complaint filed Wednesday on behalf of 17-year-old junior Allan Monga, an asylum-seeker from Zambia, asks that he be allowed to compete in the Poetry Out Loud competition in Washington, D.C., on April 23. Monga earned a spot to compete in the contest by winning a statewide competition, which included more than 9,000 students. He performed the poem “In The Desert” by Stephen Crane.

But Monga is being denied his chance to compete in the national contest by the sponsoring organization, the National Endowment for the Arts, because of rules prohibiting certain categories of immigrants from taking part. The Poetry Out Load contest rules say only citizens and permanent legal immigrants can participate, according to the suit.

Monga, who lives in Westbrook, moved to Maine in 2017.

“When I learned that I am not going to be allowed to participate in the national competition because I am not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident I felt discriminated against,” Monga wrote in a declaration filed with the suit. “America is a country of immigrants. If someone works hard and earns something, no barriers should be placed in his or her way.”

The suit was filed on behalf of Monga and the Portland Public Schools. The defendants include the NEA, its chair Jane Chu, The Poetry Foundation and the Maine Arts Commission. The suit is asking for “emergency injunctive relief” so that Monga can attend the contest.

This story will be updated.


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