- Posted September 8, 2012 by
Invisible People. Statelessness in American Society.
Why we have stateless people in the United States and why our Government refuses to take appropriate actions to fight this unprecedented phenomenon of human disgrace and fundamental violation of their rights? The country that fought Brits during American Revolution for independence, the country that fought and abolished slavery, the country that opened their doors for immigrants for mass settlement, the country that fought injustice and recognized the dignity and rights of every human being in spite of their race, religious, sexual orientation and protection against discrimination, has a major flaw in their legal system in protecting the most vulnerable population on their soil, mainly stateless persons, who are not citizens or nationals of any country. We should stop pretending in living a positive life with a negative mind.
During the Cold War between USA and USSR we struggled to promote democracy and fight communism. We mobilized all our efforts to prevent the spread of communism around the globe as the major evil that threatened the democracy around the world. Communism was associated with totalitarian regimes, dictatorship; communism prevented people from exercising their freedom, from expressing their ideology, their rights for free speech; communism took the control of citizens life and forbade them to move freely, to live freely as they wanted. It was our main goal to stop this particular disease to conquer our planet. We cheered and praised the collapse of Soviet block and dissolution of communism in Soviet Union. Even though former republics of USSR have stated in their law and papers as being a full democratic society, in the reality they are far away from fulfilling their obligation to full transition to democracy. Russia still persecuting their citizens for their opposition against the government, forbids gay population to enjoy their freedom, and sentences their own citizens to imprisonment for any activity (demonstration, speech, opposition against the rules of the government they don’t agree). Turkmenistan became a totalitarian regime under the President who elected himself for life and controls every aspects of their citizens daily routine, all your steps are monitored. Estonia and Latvia as former Soviet Republics and now members of EU downgraded the Russian speaking population on their territory by refusing to grant them citizenship or any sort of protection by living them on the state of limbo.
After the dissolution of former Yugoslavia and break up of communism most people were displaced during the devastated war that took life of thousands of people. The war for independence, the war based on religious believes between Muslims and Christians, the war that forced their former citizens to look for asylum and protection elsewhere. In 1990 former Yugoslav Republic, Croatia, introduced a law that prevented ethnic Serbs from becoming citizens even though they had resided in Croatia before Croatia gained full independence. After the dissolution of USSR, new governments introduced strict laws in their immigration and nationality law that basically left most people stateless and forced them to live as minorities. For example, in my case, in order for me to become the Russian citizen I should have provided a proof that I was resided in Russian territory before 1992 and had official registration, which I don’t, and I don’t fall under their citizenship regulation. Even when I studied in Turkmenistan, I was not registered there as official resident, and also I was persecuted in that Central Asian republic and was in opposition against the government of Turkmenistan, which basically disqualified me completely from any rights at all. Place where I was born, Azerbaijan, refused to recognize me as their citizen not only due to their new citizenship law but as politically motivated, because I am Armenian, and Azerbaijan along with Armenia fought the most horrible war over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. In real words we are enemies to each other.
So, here we have the major problem of statelessness that United States Government did not plan nor expected to happen on their own soil. Most citizens of former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia who entered the United States with passports of their former countries found themselves unwanted by the newly established countries. Some entered here for business, for study, and some came to seek for asylum and protection against the regimes and persecution in the new republics their found themselves in after the collapse of their former states.
Those people are stuck now here, in the United States and US territories without any protection or some sort of solution in their plight and their right for recognition. The US Government until now denies any rights for legalizing those invisible people or grant them protection or find an avenue for their naturalization. They are not undocumented or illegal aliens, they are people who live in limbo without future. You can die like this and never be noticed because you are not listed, you are basically an invisible person. Stateless people in the United States suffer daily, they have restrictions, they are forced to report indefinitely to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they have no rights to move freely and they are not allowed to travel around the world, basically they are confined within the US in an exile.
This human disgrace and the violation of their basic human rights should be eliminated as soon as possible. We should and must implement regulation in our domestic law by allowing those people to acquire permanent residency in the country they found themselves in, where they live and work, and have the possibility to enjoy the full rights of citizenship. According to Immigration law of the US, a person who admitted as permanent resident or granted residency while in the US, must wait 5 years before applying for US citizenship. Stateless people who are living in the US for more than 5 years, some of them for 10, 16 and more, with no country to go, should be already recognized as US citizens and not permanent residents. Because they already established their permanent residency by living and working and paying taxes while in the US for a long period of time. And the proof of that are; their Employment Authorization Cards issued by the Department of Homeland Security, their driver licenses and ID’s issued by the Government and their proof of tax filing. Those evidences are more then enough to show the proof of permanent residency in the United States to claim US citizenship. But neither Republicans nor Democrats ever tried to implement measures in our broken immigration and citizenship policy to fix this horrible act against humanity. The way we treated the true owners of this land, Native Indians, we continue the same treatment against stateless persons in this land. Will justice ever be ruled? How long can we continue to have our eyes closed, keep our hands in pockets and pretend that everything is going just well, that we do not have any problems or issues with human rights violation?
Sometimes people say that life is not easy, life is difficult, life is cruel. But I say that life is an amazing gift, life is beautiful, life is great, and people, and only people make the life to look like horrifying experience we put ourself into. People trying to make our life miserable, make us feel that we are unwanted and wish we were never been born, including authorities we put in the power by believing in their promises. When stateless people struggle to gain identity and getting blocked from any corner because of the immigration system we have, sometimes you think that those who created the most confusing laws are those who hate humanity in regards to statelessness.
Lets look at some instances where our Government fights against statelessness, and stands firm that every human being entitled for protection from the country they are in, to be recognized as citizen since it is the essential link between an individual and the state. Our Government increased funding for internally displaced people in Colombia according to the Senate’s 2013 Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill. US Government dispatched special delegations to Kuwait in response to the abuse of rights of stateless Beduin people in that Middle East nation. Assistant Secretary of Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration of the Department of State. Mr. Eric P. Schwartz stated in his October 30, 2009 speech during the Conference on Statelessness in Washington, DC that: “We must engage on this issue for the same reasons we are involved in the full spectrum of humanitarian response: first, there is the moral imperative to alleviate human suffering; second, there is strong interest we have in sustaining U.S. leadership, the policy benefits of which include enabling us to drive the implementation of international human rights and humanitarian law, programs and policy like no other government in the world…” Continuing: “The issue (statelessness) should be at the core of U.S. Government’s humanitarian mission and at the core of the Bureau that I now lead…..”
So, basically we concern about statelessness issue around the world, but we single them out in the United States leaving them disenfranchised. Basically it means we care about stateless people who suffer misery and fight for their rights for identity as long as they are outside, in foreign countries, but we refuse to take major steps in protecting and preventing statelessness in the United States. That is a humanitarian crises on large scale, that is unjustified punishment against humanity, their dignity and their rights for existence. The Department of State engages in diplomacy to prevent and resolve statelessness around the world but refuses to provide humanitarian assistance for stateless persons in the United States. That is absolute nonsense. How can we fight for something somewhere else when we ignore this major problem within our own country? Can Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration provide some explanation to this? It should be significant to our immigration law that we elaborate the principles of non-discriminatory policy that targets stateless individuals. Have we ever done anything, anything at all, to make a contribution to the human rights regime by regulating the treatment of stateless people within the US territories?
The main key instruments in preventing and reducing statelessness are 1954 and 1961 United Nations Conventions that our government declined previously and continue to do so when new cases rising every day, when stateless people facing hardship in being officially recognized as permanent residents or citizens in the country they live in. When Mr. Schwartz or other US officials describe the policy of our government in fight against statelessness in Kuwait, Palestine, Kenya, Burma, Estonia, they should first start within the United States, we don’t have to go far away, thousands miles away abroad to preach about human rights protection of statelessness when we engage in denial and deprivation of citizenship for stateless people and withdrawal and loss of citizenship of Americans on voluntary basis.
On September 08, 2011 Mr. Schwartz stated that “Happily, the laws of the United States do not contribute to the problem of statelessness…” Really? So, how can we explain that we have estimated 4,000 stateless people living in the United States, and how many of them live in shadows? How can we explain that DHS and ICE perfectly familiar with problems stateless people facing in this country, and can not be send anywhere as there is not country in the world that would accept them since they are stateless, and the country they found themselves in denies their right for nationality? That is a total contradiction to what US Government agreed upon. It’s like knocking on the wall with no answer or getting an echo sound of your knock.
I talked about difference between stateless persons in the US and Cubans entering the US before, and I want to mention this once again. Some people who came to the United States to seek for an asylum and became stateless, in order to get protection in the United States had to provide the evidence of past persecution. Some of them were successful and some with the lack of legal assistance were not able to support their claim properly without legal council. But, here we have Cuban Adjustment Act that was passed in 1966 that allows any Cuban who stepped into the US to claim protection and automatically become permanent resident of the United States. They are free from providing any sort of claim of past persecution as long as they are Cubans. That is very ridiculous to me. They come here, and they can not be deported back, they file for permanent residency based on CAA and as soon as they got their green card they travel back to the country that apparently persecuted them. What is wrong with our government? Stateless people here who unfortunately became marginalized and not protected, constantly struggling and fighting with immigration authorities to get legalized, accustomed to American life, assimilated within the country are lost and forced to be on an order of supervision, but Cubans can take a boat to get to Florida, purchase and airline ticket to get to Mexico, and afterwards cross the boarder between Mexico and US and claim protection based on CAA, are granted legal permanent status? That is absurd.
Our Government allow Cubans to take an advantage of our CAA law when they are clearly not refugees, they just don’t want to live in the country with dysfunctional economy and get better economical freedom in the US. They are granted US citizenship and free to travel to any country in the world because US passport holders are not required visas to most of the destinations in the world for a maximum stay period of 90 days. Hello? Mr. Schwartz? DHS? ICE? Mr.President? Congress? Can you hear me? Are you there?
Mr. David Rivera, Republican Congressman from Florida stated: “The fact that Cubans avail themselves of the CAA citing political persecution, and then quickly travel back to the persecuting country, is a clear and blatant abuse of the law”. So, why we don’t just grant every Cubans US visa from our Interest Section in Havana, so they come, enter here legally? We should stop this craziness. How many Cubans we have admitted since 1966 when this law went into force? How many stateless people living in the United States were able to become permanent residents or citizens of the United States? Dear Lord, Heavenly Father, Almighty God, please provide wisdom and smartness to our law makers.
The US Government believes that priority of most governments should be prevention and protection of those who are stateless. And why this should not be the priority of our government? What makes our government so different from other governments? Why those governments should protect and reduce statelessness when we refuse and deny protection of stateless people in the United States? We are right in what we do but they are not right in what they do, let make them obey our rules and policies but it does not have to work here because we are the major power in the world. With such an attitude nothing is going to work anywhere. Wash your hands first before advising others to do the same.
Once again, how the US fought for the rights of statelessness in other countries but their own. For instance, the US diplomats encouraged the Government of Vietnam to naturalize about 10,000 stateless individuals who fled Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge in the late 1970’s. The Department of State has a distinct section devoted to statelessness and their human rights practices in foreign nations, but it does not publish human rights violation of statelessness in the United States, their struggle for naturalization, nationality and citizenship that we deny to grant. We should create public awareness about the existence of statelessness in the United States and make all efforts necessary to protect their freedom, their rights which is to join 1954 and 1961 UN Conventions as soon as possible. UNHCR and the US Government should work together to elevate statelessness in the United States as an important human rights and humanitarian issue through diplomacy and humanitarian assistance with compassion to their plights.
We keep statelessness issue in the United States in shadows, the same way we continue to keep those most vulnerable people in shadows. Where stateless people belong to? How can we protect them? Who will be responsible in granting them legal status and issue them travel document so they can move around freely? I am one of those stateless person living in the United States, who with wrong advise from immigration officials in Los Angeles and agents worked for Hawaiian Airlines found myself stranded in the US territory when I came here for just short New Year holiday trip on December 29, 2011.
The current US law does not contribute to problem of statelessness in the United States which is in contradiction to our commitment in protecting statelessness as what described by the Department of State. The US Government, the US President, does not matter if he is Republican or Democrat, should introduce a mechanism and resolution to identify those stateless people living in the United States and grant them permission to stay here, finally, legally. We are not different from stateless people in Estonia, Burma, Kenya, Kuwait, Palestine or elsewhere. We should find a humanitarian approach for handling people who are stateless and who were forced into limbo. We do not have any other country to ask for help, provide us with legal protection and advocate on our behalf but the United States, the country we live in for so many years, where we spent our youth and adulthood. As a stateless myself, I am going through despair, frustration, depression, humiliation, from stateless to homeless, from hope to hopeless, from patience to anger, from love to humanity to hate against humanity, from lovable person to the monster, from healthy person to sick person (I eat less, I don’t sleep well, I suffer humidity and can’t tolerate the tropical climate on the island I am confined in), from sweet person to evil person, from person who is trying to obey law and get a legal way to return back home to the United States from the US territory to a person who is trying to find illegal way to get back even if that leads to detention or imprisonment, because I feel I am loosing every strength given to me to have my voice and voices of other stateless persons heard, and some urgent action be taken to legalize us, stateless people, in the country we consider home, the country we love deeply with all our heart, the country we are committed to.
People do not realize that everything we worked for, everything we achieved, everything we had in our possession were taken away from us by our Government; people lost jobs, people lost apartments, people lost houses, people were evicted because they could not pay their rent, we were forced from our normal life into poverty, just because our Government does not provide any assistance or help to resolve our issue. We do not ask for money, we do not ask for welfare, we just want to be legalized, to have freedom of movement, freedom of travel, and to be recognized officially as full time citizens. We should not be left as nowhere people. We are humans after all.
United States should implement procedure in recognizing stateless people when they go into contact with immigration authorities and they should not be detained just because they have no citizenship or nationality, on the basis that there are no reasonable prospects of their removal. Stateless people should be granted leave to remain in the United States and be able to have access to citizenship, especially those who are not criminals and do not pose security threat to our nation.
With obligation under international human rights law, we must ensure our own domestic laws and policies in regards to the fate of statelessness in the United States, to treat them with respect and dignity as any other human being. Nationality and Citizenship are universal human rights. We are nation built on God’s trust, and all human beings, citizens or stateless, blacks or whites, Europeans or Asians, Africans or Native Indians, irrespective to our race and color, religious believe or sexual orientation, we all created in God’s image and therefore should be respected. As stateless we are bound to see that justice is done to us. As black people who suffered injustice and human rights violation back in the days, we, stateless people are fighting for our recognition and stop unjustifiable abuse of our rights. As a Christian nation, we should witness to be in solidarity with the stateless people. You don’t have to be a religious person to know that this is the right thing to do. We should enforce our existing human rights norms to reduce statelessness both on national and international level.
Stateless Rohingyas people in Burma who struggle to be identified as legal citizens in the country they live in are not different from stateless people living in the United States and facing difficulties on daily basis. Bhutanese and Tibetans stateless people living in Nepal and denied access to citizenship and government services are not different from stateless people of former USSR and Yugoslavia who found themselves exactly in the same situation. We urge those governments to take all necessary measures to protect those vulnerable population and provide them access to nationality but we allow discrimination on the ground of statelessness in our own country.
We should not only sign and ratify 1954 Convention relating to the status of stateless persons and 1961 Convention on reduction of statelessness, we should also follow the principles of those very important instruments of the United Nations that provides framework to avoid future statelessness, to place an obligation to eliminate and prevent statelessness in our nationality laws and practices. Statelessness is discrimination and inequality, statelessness builds hate, because we deny the stateless individuals the opportunity to gain benefits from citizenship. Our national law must be consistent with an international law in regards to Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1951 Refugee Convention and etc., particularly in elimination of statelessness in our soil. We should offer a means of protecting those who are stateless in the United States, those who are counted and those who are still in shadows. Even if US Government does not, for any other reasons but freedom of renunciation of US citizenship, to join 1954 and 1961 Conventions, it should and must adopt new regulation in their INA for complete reduction of statelessness in the United States and to stop the discrimination policy targeting those individuals who kept confined and imprisoned with no future whatsoever to finally breathe free.
One stateless person, I will name him just M.G., who replied to one of my post, stated: “I recently found myself stateless too. I was born in USSR and lived in the US longer than I lived in any other country. I have to report to ICE on regular basis. Travel? No way. I will not even go to Puerto Rico, which is suppose to be as close as a state. I am terrified, scared, I live in constant fear. Why? People come here and get asylum because they afraid to live in their country. I am afraid to live here in USA”. And we should ask why? Because they afraid of endless discrimination by US authorities, afraid to be deported to somewhere they do not know, afraid, like myself, to travel to US territories for vacation and at the end being barred from re-entering the mainland of the US with an attitude that they have apparently self-deported themselves, just because they love to see the world, love to explore different cultures, something that you or your US citizen friends enjoy, but that freedom was taken away from us forever.
We can’t go anywhere legally in order to seek protection in other countries. For example, on numerous occasions since my detention in 2002 I have communicated with diplomatic representations of foreign nations in Washington via their counselor devision, and the answer was, that according to European law the person who applies for an asylum should be on the territory of that nation, not outside. Here is the reply from the Embassy of Liechtenstein that states: “According to article 15 and 16 of the Asylum Law of Liechtenstein, request for asylum have to be deposited inside the territory of Liechtenstein. Requests from abroad are not possible.” Here is what Germany has to say: “Unfortunately, it is not possible for you to seek asylum in Germany. As you already aware of, you do not meet the requirements for a status of asylum seeker in Germany while in US territory of American Samoa. The law on asylum rights is governed by the principle of territory which requires every person applying for asylum to be already within the boarders of Germany”. The same procedure applies to any other nations of EU. So, how the stateless person be avail himself to Europe to seek for asylum if he can’t even get out from his current confinement in the US or US territories? Unless, he receives an official permission from their government to board the flight, which none of them willing to do so.
In order to leave US and seek for asylum elsewhere, stateless person needs to have a travel document. US Government does not issue travel documents to stateless persons. So, how to obtain such document, or any document that will allow you to leave? Based on my research I was able to locate World Service Authority located in Washington, DC that issues World Passport for stateless persons according to Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But apparently, which I found out later, this passport does not allow you to return back to the US or even travel to Europe or any other country. Basically you are screwed. The World Passport according to WSA is a valid and legal document affirming the human right to freedom of movement, was conceived originally as a neutral and global document of identity, and along the lines of the Nansen and International Refugee Organizations passport, as a travel document for a stateless persons, refugees, and victims of political, social and economic discrimination. The letter from WSA to US Government states: “Even if the Government could site a national law to support a refusal to officially recognize the World Passport, the Government must then be able to legally explain how that law conforms to the Government’s duty to uphold fundamental human rights according to the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the Constitution of the United States.” Further:“…….we expect that the Government will provide written proof, based on the Government’s national laws or statutes, that it does not recognize the World Passport. Without reference to a specific law, please be advised that whatever a government does not expressly prohibit, it implicitly allows.” Neither I nor WSA ever received an official explanation to this letter that was dated January 10, 2012. So, stateless people are not allowed to have travel document from US Government, they are not allowed to become permanent residents and they are not allowed to become US citizens, and World Passport is not acceptable for visa or re-entry to the US. So, where stateless people should go?
This information was taken based on my own research via UNHCR. Another stateless person in the United States is Natalia Kowal, who was former citizen of USSR, and lived in Republic of Kazakhstan, and fled that country in 1995 shortly after the collapse of USSR to come to the United States to seek for asylum. Her case was turned down (I have no reason why), and she was ordered to leave but found herself stateless as according to new Kazakh law, the citizenship is forfeited if an individual is away from the country for more than 5 years without a valid reason. She is stateless in the United States. But according to US immigration law and international law, the US Government can not and should not deport person the the country where she/he was persecuted and fled to seek asylum somewhere else. Another stateless person, Tatiana Lesnikova, stateless person since 1992, she escaped Ukraine and entered the United States when Soviet Union was on the stage of dissolution. Tatiana says: “It’s a struggle (being stateless). You wake up every morning, and you don’t know where you are going to end up.” The same situation stateless people of ex-Yugoslavia going through in the United States.
According to Human Security Commission, “without citizenship people cannot attain human security.” The United States Government should promote legal reforms to address the issue of statelessness and gaps in nationality act to eliminate statelessness completely within the United States. The obstacles stateless people encounter in the United States and having no legal framework to have their status legalized and the risk they face of being detained and confined with all rights taken away from them, is the terrified experience nobody should ever experience in their life. The US Government should develop a mechanism to reach out to those stateless persons to ensure their rights for citizenship. Stateless people unable to pursue a sustainable livelihood and become victims of criminal groups, in some cases they forced to commit crime because they become demonized.
The Refugee Protection Act that was introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in 2010 included the provision that covers statelessness in the United States and provides them with an opportunity to be finally legalized and become naturalized citizens of the United States. But this act has not been moved forward, it stuck somewhere in the Capitol, and was forgotten. Why our Congress and our Government make things so much harder for stateless people than need be? It’s excruciating.
We are all human beings and we do not have to pay for our freedom. Freedom is something that was given to us at birth; freedom of travel, freedom of movement and freedom to call a place home. Your home is not where you were born, it’s a place that you truly believe and feel you belong to. As a stateless myself, and still being stuck in US territory, and have no other place to run to, it feels like being a bird away from her freedom, caught and locked inside the cage for the rest of her life. The bird screams and tries to get out of her cage, begging her capturer to release her back to her freedom, but he does hear bird’s pain. He thinks she enjoys being held in captivity with food and water provided daily. That’s how I feel being confined and held in an exile on this island, in the US territory.
Our nation addresses issues of religious persecution, child molestation, genocide, atrocities in Syria, economic turmoil in Greece, conflict between Palestine and Israel, and so on, but we do not address the issue of people who are not recognized as human, stateless persons in the United States.
We, stateless people of the United States of America, asking the US Government, our Government, to pass legislation that will provide a way stateless persons, like myself, living in this country, to gain lawful status in order to resolve our situation and put the end to our miserable life we are living in and allow us to enjoy the full human rights.