Stateless man stuck in American Samoa calls experience "nightmarish"
“Stuck in a nightmarish limbo in American Samoa” where the heat and humidity is unbearable most times, with thoughts of “suicide” to end it all, a native of Azerbaijan has appealed to, and pleaded with the federal government to let him reenter the United States, which has been his home of residence for more than a decade.
Mikhail Sebastian, 39, has been stuck in American Samoa since last December after arriving in Pago Pago for a “four day holiday trip” and a one day side trip to neighboring independent Samoa.
Sebastian’s case was taken up last month by Congressman Faleomavaega Eni, who was contacted for help following the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s denial of his reentry into the U.S. via Honolulu. (See Tuesday’s edition on Faleomavaega’s latest letter to the feds.)
Sebastian has been trying unsuccessfully to return to Los Angeles, Calif., where he has been living for the last four years. Prior to that he lived in Houston, Texas for 12 years, after arriving in the U.S. in 1996 from Azerbaijan, a republic of the former USSR.
Sebastian is staying with a local family, who’s trying to help him along the way, but so far all efforts — humanitarian and political — have failed to convince the federal government.
In May this year, when things appeared to have gotten worse, Sebastian made an audio recording using an iPhone to detail what happened and the suffering he has faced. The recording — received by Samoa News this week — was a plea to the federal government and to the United Nations for assistance.
Sebastian says he left the former Soviet republic to escape persecution in his native land and tried to apply for asylum in the U.S. “to seek peace and freedom — but I am trapped in this difficult situation as a stateless person, where there is no apparent escape, and in the legal limbo of the broken [U.S] immigration policy.”
At 22-years old — when he first entered the U.S. — he tried to defend his case before a federal immigration court. "But since I wasn’t able to afford [a] lawyer... I defended my case in front of a judge... without knowing the complexity of... immigration law of the United States, which caused my case to be denied and a voluntary departure issued” by the court.
“But I could not leave the United States due to circumstances beyond my control as a stateless person. I tried to register with other former Soviet republics but I was not recognized," he stated. So, he stayed in the United States, until he made the “unfortunate trip” to American Samoa — a four day trip “for a short holiday,” he said.
He also explained that prior to departing Los Angeles, he checked with the federal immigration office there as well as Hawaiian Airlines to make sure that he would be able to return to the U.S. without any problems.
As a stateless person, he traveled on a World Passport. He was also holding a valid California driver’s license, as well as his employment authorization card issued by the federal Homeland Security Department.
The World Passport is a document issued by the World Service Authority, a non-profit organization founded by Garry Davis in 1954, citing Article 13, Section 2, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to wikipedia.
Sebastian said the World Service Authority is based in Washington D.C. and the passport is issued to refugees or stateless people who don’t have any nationality. However, the U.S. State Department does not consider it to be a passport under federal law.
Sebastian said he “was misinformed” by Los Angeles immigration officials as well as Hawaiian Airlines regarding American Samoa, which “to my understanding now is not under the U.S. immigration law, but defined as part of the United States.”
While in the territory, Sebastian took a one day trip to Samoa and said that he wasn’t aware that this part of the Samoan islands is an independent country. Upon returning from Apia, he tried to get the Hawaiian flights on Jan. 2nd to Honolulu and then to Los Angeles, but was denied boarding by the Hawaiian local station manager, who advised him that the USDHS in Honolulu “refused to board me” and among the reasons was the World Passport document.
“...I am fighting with the local and federal authorities to try to get me back home to the United States,” he said.
He then shared his personal feelings of being stuck in the territory as a stateless person with no where to go.
“...it’s hard and difficult to stay on this island... the climate is very unbearable for me. It’s hot and humid and the heat is killing me. And there’s hardly wind that comes through — makes it hard to breathe. And because of the humidity and heat… I'm dealing with depression a lot,” Sebastian said.
“And sometimes I’m thinking about suicide, to get to escape from all this ordeal and suffering I’m going through [sic],” he said. "I know that suicide is not an option, but I don’t have any other choices left right now. My patience became thin and I'm losing my strength in fighting for my human rights...”
“I have no legal rights to any country, or a place to live. I have no rights afforded to me as a citizen. I cannot obtain a US visa due to the lack of document as a stateless person, but my long term residency was the United States in the last 16 years,” he shared. “I contributed a lot to the US economy and the community in Houston, Texas where I lived for 12 years, and Los Angeles, California where I lived in the past four years, before I made this trip to American Samoa.”
Sebastian said he tried to get asylum from other European countries as well as Canada, but was told that his long term residency was with the United Sates.
Because of this current ordeal, Sebastian said he has lost everything including his apartment in California and this is not the first time. While living in Houston, he was taken into custody there in 2002 and the U.S. government at the time tried to deport him but they didn’t know where to send him, because he was stateless and no other country wanted to accept him.
When he was finally released a couple of months later, he had lost his apartment and almost lost his job.
“As stateless people, we live a daily risk of human rights infringements. But stateless people have equal right to protection of the law,” he said.
Samoa News will report on Monday’s edition on other information and details of Sebastian’s case.