- Posted June 2, 2012 by
Pago Pago, American Samoa
Immigration Reform 2012. Stateless People in America.
My year of 2012. How it started.
I am stateless United States resident who lived in this country for the past 16 years. My former country, U.S.S.R. ( Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) ceased to exist and along with that my citizenship. I was living in the United States in legal limbo where currently there is no escape due to our broken immigration policy. On December 29, 2011 I traveled for New Year holiday to the United States territory in South Pacific, American Samoa where I got stranded since. As a stateless person, I don't have country to claim but my long term residency for 16 years was in the United States and due to statelessness leaves me in most difficult situation to fight with local and federal authorities to find the solution to my fate. US officials position was that I "self deported myself" when I left the mainland of the United States. But question is how someone could deport himself from the US to US territory? Can this be possible? United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Department of Interior who oversees this territory, Attorney General Office of American Samoa, the Governor of American Samoa and the Congressman Office of American Samoa in Washington say NO. So, the question now is with Department of Homeland Security in Washington to resolve the statelessness issue of estimated 4,000 people living in the United States with no nationality and citizenship who found themselves in limbo and became the victims of broken immigration policy of the United States. Everyone knows what a refugee is, but many don't know what it means to be stateless.
I am here try to explain this to American audience about life of stateless people, as apparently the United States media continuously bombarding news about "illegal immigrants" and "undocumented aliens" without covering the global phenomenon of stateless people living in the United States. It's not their fault that some people left without country and nationality after their former states dissolved from the map leaving them without papers and identity.
Nationality is a fundamental human right that millions of people in the world don't enjoy. It is a foundation of identity, dignity, justice and security. Statelessness is crime against humanity. It is something the world should be ashamed of.
There is a right to a nationality under international human rights law and anyone who does not have a nationality is a victim of human rights violation. The House of Representative in 2009 approved a section on statelessness bill as part of H.R.2410, the Foreign Authorization Act for 2010-11. This legislation is still pending in the US Senate for consideration.
Statelessness is often accompanied by the deprivation of a host of basic rights and discriminatory treatment, particularly with respect to freedom of movement and property rights. In this case, the United States Government is often reluctant to acknowledge the presence of stateless persons on their territories. Where the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration of Department of State looking at? Why nothing have been done to reduce statelessness in the United States?
Citizenship is one of the basic human needs, because it helps to secure many of the other human rights and gives you a sense of belonging. Stateless people in the United States also covered by the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution, which provides that no one shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.
Will finally the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Custom Enforcement, the Congress, Department of State, the President of the United States act to solve this problem of statelessness in the United States? Tricky question and politically motivated. Globally, the United States Government is concerned about statelessness as a human rights and humanitarian issue but they continue to have their eyes closed and ignore statelessness on their own territories. Can someone answer this question? Why such democratic country as United States refuse to deal with statelessness issues in our own soil but preach human rights protection abroad?
Most people take passports very much for granted, except those who have ever been without one. 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; a ghoulish existence outside of the law and its protection. The life of stateless person, is one of degradation, exposure to exploitation and fear.
Current United States law does not provide stateless people with any legal status. Unable to return to their former countries, stateless individuals living in the United States risk being detained and must apply annually for permission to work. They also face travel restrictions, and are often required to report regularly to immigration officials that can last indefinitely.
Preventing and reducing statelessness requires first that governments, civil society groups, and international and regional organizations recognize the problem, its causes, and the suffering those people going through particularly in the United States. The reason the United States having problems with stateless people is that this Government never signed or ratified 1954 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, which provides a framework for protection of stateless persons. Additionally, the United States Government never signed or ratified 1961 United Nations Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which contains provisions to prevent and reduce statelessness.
If civil society has a keen interest in elevating the importance of this issue, Government should have a solemn obligation to do the same. We should create awareness within the United States Administration, the Congress and the public about stateless people and the challenges they encounter. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees mandate is to prevent and reduce statelessness, and to protect stateless persons. In 2006, United States Administration strongly advocated adoption of UNHCR's Executive Committee Conclusion on Identification, Prevention and Reduction of Statelessness and Protection of Stateless Persons. What happened with that? Can current Administration give some explanation?
We should be guided by the proposition that everyone should have the ability to belong, to consider themselves, legally as well as socially, part of a larger community whenever they reside. Without "the rights to have rights", stateless people are among the most vulnerable in the world. The United States Government should come up with a mechanism to regularize a stateless person's status. Due Process Clause of 14th amendment of United States Constitution applies to "natural persons protected by the due process clause, these includes all human beings regardless of race, color, or citizenship". As the Supreme Court of US said in 2001, "the due process clause applies to all 'persons' within the United States, including aliens, whether their presence here is lawful, unlawful, temporary or permanent". If the United States Congress has total authority over all immigration law, they should not be blind and force the comprehensive immigration reform to take place urgently. If United States Government was able to board Chinese Activist Chen on the plane without passport and visa, and grant him partial citizenship rights, it means we can easily solve the problem and fate of stateless United States residents in a matter of seconds.
Stateless people in the United States cannot be branded for the rest of their life. They require urgent response from the United States Administration. Stateless people are in desperate need of help because they live in a nightmarish legal limbo. United States Government is a signatory member of United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights". Article 1 says: "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status". Article 2 states: "All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law". Article 7 states: "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country". But for most stateless people this is a big challenge.
Statelessness is a global phenomenon that currently affects as many as 12 million people worldwide. New cases continue to arise every day as states struggle with the challenge of ensuring that everyone enjoys a nationality. The Congress of the United States must address the status of stateless persons, their human rights in the United States and act promptly to find better solution. Citizenship or nationality is the essential link between an individual and the State. Statelessness is not an unsolvable problem. The United States Government should respect the basic human right of all stateless individuals on their territories, adhere to international standards to protect stateless people, reduce statelessness by facilitating acquisition of nationality and citizenship. Stateless people in the United States live at daily risk of human rights infringements. Many are trapped in a nightmarish legal limbo from which there is currently no escape.
In the case of a stateless person with no papers to enter another country, to where on Earth can he be deported? Only oceans, the skies over them. They cannot legally enter another state where they face the same illegalities, which face them them in deporting state. Then there is the question of their consent. They are under no obligation to enter a country to which they don't want to go. Both human rights and just national law itself defends the individual against such coercion.
International Human Rights law, international relations and domestic decision making have impacted the ability of international refugee law to protect one of the most powerless groups, namely, stateless people. The United States Government don't seem to have taken the phenomenon of statelessness into account when developing their intricate, complex and at times confusing policies.
Let me remind you the words of the Irish American Cardinal, Timothy Dolan, who said: "When you have a policy that splits up families, when you have a policy that drives people underground, when you have a policy where now the Government, whether it be in Arizona or Alabama, is asking our soup kitchens to ask for documentation before they give people food or housing or clothing or medical care, that's not right. That's not Catholic. That's not Christian. That's not religious. And it's not American".
Most people still getting hard to understand how it's possible to become stateless. I would recommend to read articles about statelessness, and as stateless myself, I also want to give example how I became stateless after my former country ex Soviet Union dissolved. Some conservative people here try to jump into conclusion without obtaining facts first and getting some knowledge about statelessness issue. Education is important at all levels and everywhere. It is at that point we gain understanding. We got to remember that we are still students and always be. Here we go:
Imagine that United States ceased to exist and all of sudden we got new 50 independent countries on the map. Saying that, let say you were born in Alabama as United States citizen but you live and work now in Rwanda. The federal law and US constitution that once said that person born in the United States automatically become citizen is not valid any longer. Alabama as other new 50 countries adopted new constitution and new immigration/citizenship law. Your United States passport and citizenship do not have any value according to new law of the Republic of Alabama. So, after 16 years in Rwanda you decided to return back but your passport became useless and airlines won't board you on their flight due to lack of documents you have. So, your next step is try to locate embassy of Alabama in Rwanda. I am doubt Alabama will open embassy there, your best shot will be South Africa. The consular section reviewed your case and became very sympathetic about your situation and decided that according to the law of Alabama you do not qualify as citizen of the place of your birth by law. You try to convince then that Alabama was part of USA and you should become citizen of Alabama but in response you got letter of denial of your citizenship because rules of those new independent 50 countries don't recognise person outside their country boarders when they became independent. So, you realise that you became stateless with no country to go, no other former states of USA to claim you. You became in legal limbo. You stuck in Rwanda and Rwanda issued deportation against you as a stateless person but unable to deport you as you have no country to go. Rwanda will persecute you, detain you and your only help is to fight with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to help you to find some sort of solution in your case.
I hope this example will give you a light to the fate of stateless people living like this in the US, those who used to be citizens of former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union,and what they are going through.
When there is no fear, no afflictions and no worries, that is truly the Divine, heavenly state.
P.S. During my trip to American Samoa, I also spent one day in Western Samoa (which is an independent country, and I was not aware of). Before coming to American Samoa, I thought that Eastern and Western Samoa are part of one American Samoa as US territory. I only realized that Western Samoa was an independent state when I arrived there and had to go through customs. Even when I purchased ticket to get to Western Samoa they did not even ask for my ID or documentation.
The whole issue started with American Samoa as definition of American Samoa as indictaed on USCIS website is very confusing. In § 1215.1 (e) Definitions states that "The term United States means the several States, the District of Columbia, the Canal Zone, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, Swains Island, the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, and all other territory and waters, continental and insular, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States".
and continues § 1215.1 (g) "The term geographical part of the United States means: (1) The continental United States, (2) Alaska, (3) Hawaii, (4) Puerto Rico, (5) the Virgin Islands, (6) Guam, (7) the Canal Zone, (8) American Samoa, (9) Swains Island, or (10) the Trust Teritory of the Pacific Islands".
But than we have INA 101(a)(38) that states that "The term "United States", except otherwise specifically herein provided, when used in a geographical sense, means the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands of the United States". American Samoa is not included here.
INA 101 (a)(29) states that "The term "outlying possessions of the United States" means American Samoa and Swains Island". I had no idea about any of that until I start making research while being trapped in this island. Very confusing law about US territory.
Flight to American Samoa is an international flight which I was not advised. When you arrive to Honolulu from American Samoa you have to pass immigration inspection that what I was told here which I was not aware of before. The whole thing started with American Samoa from the beginning, as I thought it was safe to travel to US territory but when Attorney General office of American Samoa argued with federal authorities that person cannot deport himself/herself from the US to the US territory, they were persistent on the fact that American Samoa does not define status as United States in geographical term which can be debated (it is US territory and they do have representative in US Congress), but when they saw stamp in my World Passport about visiting other Samoa they switched their position stating that now I self deported myself. Probably by immigration law I deported myself when I traveled to Western Samoa, but I did not know, I was not advised and I had no idea that Western Samoa was an independent state. But I came back to American Samoa, back to US soil legally when I was about to connect to my flight back home to LA via Honolulu when my nightmare startes. Everything is so confusing. Besides being stateless, I am now homeless, I had my life, my job and my carrier and I feel like bing thrown away by the government to some unknown island which is US territory.
I also want to mention the statement from Attorney General office of American Samoa that reads: "We take the position that one may not be "deported" to a US Territory, even if the Territory handles its own immigration system, as is the case in American Samoa. We also take the position that, even if he may have "deported himself" to Western Samoa, he is currently not in Western Samoa - he is here, in the United States, and we have no legal authority to require Western Samoa to take him back there. We believe that, as between American Samoa and California, his proper place is California, since that is where he resides, works, is registered, and participates in the federal supervision program".