I, Mikhail Sebastian, a 39 year old male is a stateless person who have been living in the United States of America for 16 years with no criminal background and paid taxes. Icame to the United States in 1995 as a citizen of ex-Soviet Union, a country that ceased to exist and along with it, his citizenship. At that time I was 22 and tried to file for political asylum in Houston, TX. Since I was not able to afford lawyers, I defended my own case in front of an immigration judge, not knowing any of the vast laws and nuances of U.S. immigration procedure. My case was denied, I was told I would be deported. This was an issue for me, and the United States, because I am is one of the estimated 4,000 people living in the U.S. whom is considered “stateless”, or having no legal rights to any country or place to live. Difficulty often originates in that states are often reluctant to acknowledge the presence of stateless people on their territories. More often, they are counted as undifferentiated "aliens", if their presence is recognized at all. I have no rights afforded to me as a citizen. But, where do you send a man who has no home?
I was born in Baku, Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic to Armenian Christian-Orthodox parents, and Azerbaijan does not recognize me as their citizen. During the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia my family had to flee for safety after my aunt was killed by local people in Baku, by being stoned to death. War was escalating in the area rapidly. I lived briefly in Moscow but Russian authorities did not provide me with residency or permission to stay permanently. Finally, my parents moved to Turkmen S.S.R. in order to save their family from persecution. Since the collapse of U.S.S.R., Turkmenistan, predominantly with a Muslim population, had become a dictatorship regime. Russian language was eliminated, the non-Turkmen population was persecuted, and those who went against the dictatorship regime were jailed. As a student I was bullied by Turkmens because of my nationality, religious beliefs, refusal to learn the local language, my opposition against the dictatorship regime, and my sexual orientation as gay. Any act of homosexuality was punishable by law with up to five years in jail. I did not adjust well or fit in.
I was able to finally obtain a U.S. visa and flee persecution of my beliefs and sexual orientation, coming to the U.S. for freedom and asylum. As previously stated, I could not afford a costly trial lawyer at the time of my case and was ordered deported. However, I could not leave the U.S. to travel anywhere else as similarly no other country offered permission or asylum.
In August 2002, I was “apprehended” by immigration authorities. He was placed into custody at C.C.A. (Correction Cooperation of America) to be deported to where, i did not know, as there is no place to take a man who is stateless. After six month of detention, in February 2003, I was released on order of supervision and became officially stateless since I could not be deported. D.H.S. gave me authorization to live and work in the U.S. as stateless, and I was told that the only way to fix my immigration status was if the U.S. would pass comprehensive immigration reform, which has never happened. My Order of Supervision stated that I should report to INS every three months, which I have done.
In 2010 I contacted the United Nations trying to get documentation, such as a type of passport for stateless people, and I was referred to World Service Authority, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. who were are an authority regarding the issuance of World Passports to stateless people and refugees.
On December 29, 2011, I decided to travel to the U.S. territory of American-Samoa, which is overseen by the Department of Interior. I was informed by the Los Angeles Immigration Department that I could travel to that territory only if I could obtain travel permission from the Attorney General of American Samoa, since it was a territory, and not a state. I obtained that permission.
Hawaiian Airlines checked my documents in L.A. and in Honolulu and I was told that everything was in order for my departure and return to the United States proper. On my way back, on January 02, 2012
, I was denied boarding by a station manager of Hawaiian Airlines, who told me that the Honolulu airport Immigration Office did not authorize my return as I did not have permission to return to the United States. I procured my official documentation from I.C.E. stating my status in U.S. as stateless. The airport immigration office informed me that because I left the U.S. voluntarily, I voluntarily deported myself from the U.S.
The Attorney Generals office of American Samoa has been working hard to get me back, arguing with D.H.S. that American Samoa is a legal part of the United States, and that a person cannot deport themselves from the U.S. to a U.S. territory.
The American Samoa Congressman’s office in Washington, D.C., the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Department of Interior, all are working hard to try to get me back home but the final piece of the puzzle is the agreement of the D.H.S., which I am desperately waiting for.
I came to the United States to avoid persecution, war and discrimination. For me, the U.S. is the land of opportunity, and values that some take for granted are quite tangible to me, having come from a hard background into the land of freedom, protection, safety, values and ideals. I am a hard working person of positivity and good moral standing. I have been torn away from the life I has carved for myself over sixteen years as a law abiding, tax paying citizen in the U.S., and has no other place to go.
United States is the only home and country I know. I have contributed a lot to the community in Houston, TX where I lived before and Los Angeles, CA, my current home. I studied English and Literature at the Turkmen University, stopping after 2 years of study to flee the dictatorship regime. In the United States I continued my education, studying Spanish at Houston Community College, earning a travel management diploma from Ashworth College in GA, a diploma in interior design from San Francisco Interior Design Institute, and still working on my MBA in Business Administration from Ashworth University, GA. Two years ago I discovered my passion for the culinary world of specialty coffee, a rapid growth sector, and I have become a certified, employed at the Specialty Coffee House in Hollywood, CA. I frequent at events held by the Specialty Coffee Association of America, is certified as a specialty barista by the International Academy for Specialty Coffee, and hold a Level 1 Barista Certification from SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America).
The UNHCR mandate is a refugee act designed to prevent and reduce statelessness, and to protect stateless people. If civil society has an interest in elevating the issue of statelessness, the government should have a solemn obligation to do the same. All who are citizens of the United States know that citizenship is a critical part of our daily life and a source of pride. However, for me as stateless individual, these aspects are a constant challenge, and a statue I strive to reach to find a shared sense of dignity. Without the rights to have rights, I am the most vulnerable person in the world. I have lived in US for sixteen years, the only place I consider as my home and my country. I don't not have any other place to go. Los Angeles is my home, my life, my job and my carrier.
Everyone that puts in their fair share, works hard, is honest and plays the game the way we’ve all agreed it should be played should have the ability to belong, to consider themselves part of a larger community of America.
I truly did not know I could not travel outside the U.S. to another part of the U.S. that is considered a territory, and I did not know that my World Passport that was issued according to the rules and regulations of the U.N. Declaration for Human Rights would cause all this trouble.
According to the Due Process Clause any person, lawful or illegal, or conditional resident, including stateless people and those on order of supervision, are granted the same fundamental, undeniable constitutional rights granted to all Americans. The Due Process and equal protection clauses embodied in US Constitution and Bill of Rights apply to every "person", and are not limited to U.S. citizens
Most people take passports and citizenship for granted, except those who have ever been without one of them. They know how confining it is to be without the right paperwork. They know what it's like to take the first step into the ghastly limbo of statelessness. These people live in the fear of being rounded up and deported, often to countries they don't know, or simply to be confined for unknown duration, for having committed no unlawful act. The life of stateless person is one of degradation, and exposure to fear.
Stateless people in our country should be protected, they are not criminals, and should not be treated as such. In order to do so we have to petition the U.S. authorities to join, sign and ratify 1954 UN Convention, relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.