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Stateless man receives official permission to return to United States

Four-day holiday became one year ordeal
fili@samoanews.com

Mikhail Sebastian, who has been stuck in American Samoa since December of 2011, received good news yesterday from an asylum attorney working on this case, that he is allowed back into the U.S.

The 39-year old native of Azerbaijan, a republic of the former USSR, has been staying with a local family, who’s trying to help him along the way, but all efforts — humanitarian and political — had failed to convince the federal government to let him return to the U.S.

Sebastian picked up support of his case from overseas individuals - including Congressman Faleomavaega Eni and organizations such as the UN Refugee Agency (or UNHCR) and the Jewish/Turk Family Center urging the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as well as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to allow re-entry for Sebastian. All efforts failed.

However, things are looking better for Sebastian, who was informed yesterday afternoon of the good news, via e-mail from Tammy Lin, an immigration attorney for the Pins Asylum Program at the San Diego-based Jewish/Turk Family Center.

Lin says she received an e-mail from the “USCIS officer adjudicating Mikhail’s case. Mikhail’s case has been approved!” She says she plans to contact Sebastian today “about the logistics of the travel authorization for Mikhail to return”, according to the email which was sent to others individuals supporting this case, including Sebastian, who forwarded the message to a handful of news organizations, including Samoa News.

Because it was already after hours in San Diego when Samoa News received this information, there was no additional information available from Lin at press time about this matter. A request for comments was left on her voice mail as well as an email message.

According to the Jewish/Turk Family Center, the group’s immigration lawyer “has been working with UNHCR and the American Samoa Government to get Sebastian humanitarian parole so he can return to his life in Los Angeles.”

“USCIS approved my case,” Sebastian told Samoa News when contacted for comments. He also said the approval means, he is now allowed to return back to Los Angeles where he has lived and worked for four years. Prior to that Sebastian resided in Texas for 12 years.

Sebastian said he is now waiting for travel documents in order to get a flight on Hawaiian Airlines back to Los Angeles and he has also sought ASG’s help in getting the airline to reinstate his expired ticket and waive all fees.

He said Hawaiian should waive any fees and penalties on the ticket, “because they are the ones who allowed me to board the flight” from Los Angeles.

Sebastian had told Samoa News last year that 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.”

His trip to Pago Pago in December 2011 was for a four-day holiday followed by a one-day trip to neighboring Samoa. But that holiday turned into a stay of more than a year in the territory, when he was denied boarding a Hawaiian flight out of Pago Pago on Jan. 2, 2012. This occurred after the federal government informed local authorities that Sebastian was not allowed back into the U.S.

As a stateless person, Sebastian traveled on a World Passport and he was also holding a valid California driver’s license as well as an employment authorization card issued by the federal Homeland Security Department.

According to UNHCR, stateless people in the U.S. cannot travel outside the country and must report to immigration authorities anywhere from once per week to once a year.

"I wish nobody would have to go through the same thing that I am going through," Sebastian was quoted in a media release by UNHCR last month as it urges the U.S. government to take further action to end the hardships facing stateless people in the United States.

“Being stateless he faces difficulties in returning to his home in the United States. His story illuminates the challenges that many stateless people in the U.S. face. Without a legal framework allowing them to apply for residency and eventually obtain citizenship, they live their lives in permanent limbo,” the statement says.



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