Former boxing champ held as US illegal alien

STEVE KILGALLON
Last updated 05:00 17/07/2011
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Detained: Jimmy `Thunder' Peau hasn't held a green card since 2003.

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Former Kiwi  boxing champion Jimmy "Thunder" Peau has been held in an American immigration detention centre since last August and has been fighting deportation to New Zealand, his wife says.

Peau, 45, who won the IBO heavyweight world title and recorded the world's fastest knockout victory, was arrested last April and has been detained in a Nevada immigration centre since August after police discovered he has not held an American green card since 2003.

Peau's wife, Iris Whitemagpie Peau, says she has exhausted her savings fighting his case and was trying on Friday to find $1500 bail money to get her husband out before the weekend.

Complicating the case, she says, is that Arizona law doesn't recognise traditional Native American wedding ceremonies, so she is going through the courts to prove her 2009 marriage to Peau is legal, allowing him to stay in the US.

The Star-Times revealed Peau's turbulent post-boxing life in a 2010 story where we discovered he had been living homeless on the streets of Las Vegas.

His fortunes improved somewhat when he met Iris in 2008, and they were married the following year. He was given some casual labouring work at the centre for Native Americans where she works as a counsellor.

Iris says Peau, who suffers significant memory loss as a result of his boxing career, doesn't want to return to New Zealand, despite having three children from his first marriage living in Auckland.

Iris says she needs to find $600 for a formal marriage licence, up to $1000 for a temporary and then permanent green card and has spent over $3000 on immigration and criminal lawyers.

Iris said she never realised Peau was without paperwork, which she says he "lost" when he was jailed in 2003 for trespass.

"I didn't know he was an illegal alien," she said. "I figured his manager had done all the paperwork, as much money as he made for them, you think he would have done that.

"Even the judge commented it was really unfortunate that his managers and his promoters never even started the paperwork a long time ago when he got here, but what they wanted was his money. He really is too trusting."

Samoa-born Peau's 49-fight professional career ended in 2002. After losing a WBF world title fight against Englishman Johnny Nelson in Auckland in 1993, he fought mainly in America, winning several regional belts, the IBO title and famously, in 1997, knocked out US boxer Crawford Grimsley in just 13 seconds.

"Once I get James bailed, he knows a few people here in Las Vegas, I am sure he can work something up," said Iris. "The number of times we've been out shopping and a trainer came up saying `Hey, Thunder, how you doin', here's my number', but when we walked away, James would throw it away because he thought `They will use me like a racehorse and take my money'."

She says she remains confident Peau will be released and allowed to stay.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Peau hadn't contacted them directly for consular assistance. They urged him to make contact if he needed help.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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