- Posted September 2, 2012 by
Pago Pago, American Samoa
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Can stateless people in the US be deported to the US territory?
This article is about statelessness in the United States, their fate, their struggle, their freedom, their confinement, their right for justice and their human rights issue. Most people in Europe, Africa, Middle East, Asia know what it means to be stateless, but majority of US population does not seem to take the phenomenon of statelessness in our country seriously. Most of us know what is to be a refugee but few know what is to be stateless.
The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness are key legal instruments in the protection of stateless people around the world and in the prevention and reduction of statelessness. It specifically clarifies that “A stateless person is a person who is not considered as a national by any State under operation of its law”. (Article 1 of the 1954
Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons).
Most people found themselves stateless after the collapse and dissolution of their former countries they belonged to, those who entered US as citizens of former countries such as USSR and Yugoslavia. Statelessness is a condition. The biggest pain is really not being recognized by a place you truly believe you belong to. Stateless persons in the United States through no fault of their own have been stripped of something central to a person identity-citizenship and the legal connection between individual and state that goes with it. Stateless people of former Yugoslavia and ex-USSR who got stuck in limbo in the United States for a long period of time, are not considered as national by their former countries or newly established independent countries because after dissolution their considered a citizen by neither one, because rules of those countries don’t recognize person outside of their country boarders when they became independent.
Some stateless people who entered the United States to seek asylum against persecution, discrimination based on nationality, religion, sexual orientation, opposition against their government rules, human rights violation, dictatorship regime in such countries likeTurkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan, etc., etc. were thrown away and excluded from protection because those asylum seekers and refugees were not able to afford costly lawyers or get pro-bono council assistance to represent their case in front of an immigration judge. They were granted deportation to basically nowhere as they were stateless. US immigration law is complex and confusing, some asylum seekers and refugees did not realize that they were given 30 days to appeal their case, and were only able to find representation until 6 month later or year later at the time when their 30 days appeal passed and was no longer valid.
I am one of those stateless person who was running from persecution based on religion, nationality and sexual orientation and seeking protection anywhere I could. First our family were forced to leave our home in former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan during the war between Armenian and Azeris over disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, we had no protection whatsoever neither in Russia nor in Armenia, and we had to move to Central Asian Republic of former USSR, Turkmenistan, where human rights violations were on high scale due to nationalist movement of Turkmens and establishment of dictatorship regime of Saparmurat Niyazov, where any act of homosexuality was punishable by law for up to 5 years of imprisonment (some articles indicate 2 years but it is 5).
Coming to the United States was a relief for me to find a peace. I came here as any other asylum seekers or refugees because I believed in the promises this country had to offer. It was not only the land of opportunity but land of freedom, protection and safety, values and ideals, but unfortunately I found myself in more worse situation than what I had expected. As one of those who was not able to find legal representation for my asylum claim, I was granted deportation to “nowhere” because I was stateless. Even though the judge indicated Russia as country for deportation, I was not a citizen of Russia and I have tried to find protection in Russia before coming to the US, unsuccessfully. I could not leave due to circumstances beyond my control. On August 2002 I was arrested and placed into immigration detention. I spent 6 month of my life in the detention awaiting for something I did know, either to be send to another safe country, or to be released. Finally 6 month later I was released according to law of Zadvydas in February 2003 and placed under an order of supervision which required me to report to immigration authorities every 3 month which lasted until October 2011.
On December 29, 2011 I took a short New Year holiday trip to the US territory in South Pacific, American Samoa. I was not advised that I could not travel outside of US mainland, and here comes another madness that I continue to suffer for the past 8 month in US territory. On my way back home to Los Angeles via Honolulu, I was barred from re-entering the mainland of the US because as what it was told by the Department of Homeland Security to Hawaiian Airlines that I “self-deported” myself from the US as soon as I left the mainland. I am still fighting with federal authorities to allow me to return back. So, here we come to the main topic and title of this article, Can stateless people in the US be deported to US territory? By all definition that is not possible. US territory is US territory, either it is part of the Commonwealth, or an unincorporated, unorganized or autonomous territory, they are still part of the United States, not United Kingdom, not France, not Germany, not Italy but the United States of America where the head of the territory is the President of the United States.
Where stateless people can be deported to? Or why they should be deported when they spent most of their life in the country they consider home, the country they feel safe in? Why we do not have any regulation or provision in our law to protect the most vulnerable population such as stateless people? They can’t live the rest of their life in the state of limbo, in the state of prolong uncertainty. We are the nation of human rights protection, we fight violence against humanity, we strive to promote freedom around the world, find compassion and humanitarian approach to the plights and fates of refugees and stateless people in Kenya, Palestine, Burma, but we forget about statelessness in the United States.
So, here again about US mainland and US territories. I feel like Napoleon who was exiled by Brits first to Elba island, and then to St. Helena Island. But Napoleon was a conqueror, a person who forced his nation to conquer territories by force that led to devastation, death and destruction compare to stateless persons who came to seek peace and protection in the safe country as United States, or those stateless persons who found themselves unwanted.
Stateless persons cannot and should not be send or deported from US mainland where they lived most of their life to some US territory they cannot be accustomed to, to some islands they do not wish to be in, this is against their will and their freedom. They are not criminals, and should never be treated as such. They need compassion and understanding by any legal terms of international and domestic law. We as nation protect human rights in China, grant asylum to Chinese activist, asylum and refugee protection for Cubans and North Koreans, to stateless from Dominican Republic, to refugees from Africa, to victims of human trafficking, advocating for human rights protection in Middle East, etc., etc., this list can go on and on, but we forget about the most vulnerable population such as stateless persons in our land, their life, because it is a daily mental torture they are going through to have their voice heard, to get assimilated legally in the country they live in for so long, the country they established themselves in and call home, to have freedom of movement, freedom of travel that is given to us at the time of birth. But we should impact those authorities who wish to ignore us, to pretend that issue of statelessness does not exist. And those who continue doing so are committing crime against humanity.
Guam, North Marianna Islands, US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and Swains Island are the US territories, they are under the jurisdiction of the federal government, the US flag flying on those islands that shows allegiance to the United States, currency in operation is US dollar, Postal Service provided by US Postal Service, and so on. We sometimes create so confusing and misleading policy in our immigration law that even immigration officers having difficult time to figure out what is what and which is which. If stateless person got stranded in some other country or islands other then US territory that would have been completely different issue where two sovereign nations trying to figure out the plight of stateless person between his long-term residency prior to arrival to another place where he got stuck, or something else. But when you are in the territory that controlled by the United States and overseen by the US Department of Interior that basically clarify you being on the US soil and still banned from returning back to your home place in the US mainland where you lived and worked for 16 years that is a humanitarian issue, that is a human rights violation and that is against the international law of human rights protection, that is against the will of any human being to be confined on some island he does not want to be in, especially where person is too temperature sensitive to humidity and tropical climate. And we always forget the Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights we signed including the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
Most European Union countries who signed and ratified New York Convention of 28 September 1954 on the status of stateless persons grant asylum to any person “no state considers its national in accordance with its legislation”. This status is only concerns persons who do not possess any nationality. United States does not provide any mechanism in protecting or reducing statelessness in their immigration or national law as we are probably the only one safe, civilized, developed nations that never signed or ratified 1954 UN Convention which trigs the question, why? Even though the US Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration states that they do provide life-sustaining assistance to stateless people around the world, in reality they do not provide any help or assistance to stateless people in the United States, particularly in legalizing their status and providing the path to citizenship. Stateless people were managed to survive the unspeakable hardship of persecution in their quest for freedom, safety and protection but when they came to the United States they found themselves unprotected, not recognized, and stripped from any rights because without papers we are nobody, we practically do not exist.
We allow Cubans to claim refugee status once entered the US soil, we allow North Koreans to claim refugee status once in the US, we allow Iraqi to claim refugee status once in the US, we allow Palestinians to claim refugee once in the US, we allow Sudanese and Somalis to claim refugee once in the US, previously we allowed Jews or other Russian speaking population of ex USSR to claim asylum and refugee status in the US, but we are not providing assistance to those stateless people who run for safety and protection from former regimes, or those stateless people who by not their fault found themselves in statelessness limbo once in the US.
During my trip to American Samoa, I have traveled for 1 day to Western Samoa, which at that time I knew nothing about Western Samoa being a sovereign nation and does not consider as part of US territory. In my understanding Eastern and Western Samoa were part of US territory. So, the first claim of US DHS was that I self-deported myself when I entered American Samoa, than another claim was that I went to Western Samoa which was not part of the US. So, I was told that I was not allowed to travel. Why do we have to put such restriction on people and not allow them to travel freely when in my situation I was holding letter issued to me by ICE which specifically states that I am stateless, lives in the US and allowed to work in the US? So, 1 day in Western Samoa (which is only 20 minutes fly from American Samoa), and 8 month in American Samoa (US soil, US territory), I am still struggling to return back home, to the country of my 16 years residency, to the only country I consider home because as stateless person I don’t belong to anyone. I am invisible, I am basically a dead soul. Even though I went for 1 day to Western Samoa, I returned back to American Samoa, to the US territory, to the US soil. I did not enter illegally, I did not swim the ocean across those islands, I was admitted to US territory back legally, in transit, to catch my flight back home. And here I am, on the US soil, on the US territory that under the jurisdiction of the United States, asking and pleading US Government to allow me to enter the US soil.
I want to provide some argument and explanation written by the Assistant of Attorney General of American Samoa,Valerie Lowson in regards to my statelessness situation:
“When I interviewed Mr. Sebastian, he said he did not know that he could leave the United States. He had previously traveled to Puerto Rico and Hawaii, and thought that he could travel to American Samoa as well, since it was part of the United States. No one told him otherwise, not when he reserved an airline tickets, obtained an entry permit, or boarded the plane. He likewise did not know that Western Samoa was a separate and distinct country from American Samoa-he thought they were simply separate islands”. Continue: “After three days of call and emails to various offices around the United States, it appears that the attitude of the US officials taking our calls is that he “self-deported” when he entered American Samoa and/or Western Samoa, and that he is not allowed back into the “United States”. 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”.
Can stateless people in the US be deported to US territory? No, it is not possible. The letter from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) states that: “According to his file, Mr. Sebastian is a stateless person according to the UN Convention relating to the status of stateless persons, adopted 9/28/1954 by a Conference of Plenipotentiaries convened by Economic and Social Council Resolution 562 A (SVII) of 4/26/1954. Mr. Sebastian is currently residing at (address), and has eligibility for Employment Authorization as granted by Citizenship and Immigration Services”.
If I were a stateless person living in the United Kingdom, France or the Netherlands, and decided to take vacation to travel to their dependencies and territories, such as Gibraltar (UK), Aruba (the Netherlands), New Caledonia (France), I would never had problem returning back to the country where I lived for many years and registered as stateless person. But what makes the United States so different from other nations?
The letter form UNHCR addressed to US officials states: “In light of his vulnerability as a person who, at this moment, is not recognized as a national of any country, and in light of his lack of any connection with American Samoa, UNHCR supports a grant of humanitarian parole to allow Mr. Sebastian to return to the US”.
The letter signed by Maureen Lynch from International Observatory for Statelessness at Kingston University, London, states: “According to Article 15 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, everyone has a right to nationality but statelessness is still a global dilemma. The lives of more than 12 million people are affected on a daily basis and yet there are few remedies available. And I’m sad to report that many of these individuals only find relief through targeted intervention. In short, we must all seek justice for the worlds’ stateless, oftentimes, one person at a time…..In this case, the US and American Samoa can and must work together to find a solution for Mr. Sebastian, whether through humanitarian relief, recognition as a refugee, or otherwise. Will all due respect, there is really no option…”
The United States is my home, my country, my life, and everything I have achieved in the United States. I just do not understand why we as a nation that advocates human rights protection, grant asylum and refugee protection to some other people but we keep neglecting the plight and mental torture of stateless people in our country. We torture them mentally to the point where their brain dries out, they can’t mentally function anymore, they become zombies, you don’t feel them, it just bodies of those stateless people walking around the street but they are mentally dead because our government allows to put them on the stage of mental torture, they become victimized, they become angry, frustrated, demonized, easy to be manipulated by some violent groups, to be recruited by some violent groups because we, as a nation of freedom and democracy abandoned them, and washed them away from the face of earth.
When there is no fear, no afflictions and no worries, that is truly the Divine, heavenly state.