Stateless man to return home, USCIS approves his case
Being paroled back to the U.S. for humanitarian reasons will allow a stateless man who was stranded in the territory for more than a year to apply for asylum. This will allow him to permanently reside in the United States, which has been his home for some 16 years, according to an immigration attorney.
Mikhail Sebastian, the 39-year old native of Azerbaijan who arrived in the territory December 2011, received the good news Thursday afternoon from Tammy Lin, an immigration attorney for the Pins Asylum Program at the San Diego-based Jewish/Turk Family Center, that the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has approved his case.
In a statement that was also sent to other news organizations, Sebastian said he is overwhelmed by joy and happiness. "I praise Lord Jesus Christ for not forsaking me, for giving me enough strength and courage even at the time of my disbelief and hopelessness to overcome this painful ordeal I was set to endure” over the last year and two months, he said.
“My final days of exile approaching to an end, and I'd like to thank USCIS and the officers who were involved in adjudicating my case to make the right thing possible.” He thanked several individuals including former Assistant AG Valerie who “truly deserves praise” and his adopted family in Nu’uuli.
“Susana and Tupu Tao, my 'adopted' family, I kneel down to you to pay my homage for putting up with me for so long, for doing everything in your power to make me feel at home even though I could not accept that,” he said.
“Thanks for taking me to the hospital whenever I needed, thanks for your financial assistance, I never forget, thanks for having me even though I was pain… sometimes. You did more than I expected and more than your government could provide. You dealt with me in your own hardship. I became a burden to your family and I had a difficult time to find peace within myself. But good people do exist and they listen to your S.O.S. And that's what we, Christian people are about. Those who believe in the Almighty and find his tender love,” Sebastian said.
The UNHCR sent a film crew to the territory last November for a documentary on Sebastian’s case, highlighting the issue of stateless people in the U.S. The crew spent two days in Los Angeles and four days in the territory and the documentary was first shown early this year to federal government officials in Washington D.C.
“When the UNHCR office in Washington approached me with the possibility of filming a documentary about my case I became hesitant and was about to decline filming thinking of myself like monkey in the zoo when people come to watch live performance for their amusement,” said Sebastian responding to request for comments on Friday.
“I thought about it and finally agreed to meet UNHCR team... and I did not regret. I had the most wonderful time in my life for all those months in captivity to see people who cared about the issue, who brought me smile and happy moments in my life within my confinement,” he said.
Responding to Samoa News questions, Lin said that the USCIS office in Washington D.C. has given the approval for Sebastian. “There are some logistical things I have to speak with them (USCIS) to be worked out but this [approval] means that Mikhail will be allowed to return to the mainland and return to his him home... in Los Angeles,” she said via e-mail Friday morning from San Diego.
Asked for her reaction to the outcome of this case, Lin said, “I am extremely pleased with USCIS’s determination of Mikhail’s request to return to the mainland after a year of trying to work with the [federal] government to allow him to return home.”
By returning to the U.S., “Mikhail will finally be able to revisit this asylum application with the U.S. government and hopefully lead to a permanent option of staying in the United States so that he never has to go through something like this again,” said Lin. (See Friday's Samoa News edition for more background information)
She also says that she was “ecstatic" when she got the news from USCIS and “I know that Mikhail and everyone involved in the team — the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the American University, the American Samoa Attorney General’s office and Congressman Faleomavaega Eni — are just as pleased and relieved that we could help Mikhail.”
Early Friday morning, Lin sent an email message to Sebastian, UNHCR and the American University, saying that she had spoken with the USCIS representative in D.C. to discuss the “logistics” of returning Sebastian back to the U.S., “because of the unusual circumstances of American Samoa being part of the U.S. but not having a USCIS office.”
Lin said the approval for Sebastian to enter the U.S. will probably be coordinated by USCIS with the U.S. Embassy in Samoa.
“It’s a highly unusual circumstance since American Samoa is part of the U.S. but yet separate so everyone on the [federal] government side is working as hard as they can to make sure it all goes smoothly and timely,” she said.
The complete text of Sebastian’s statement is posted with the online version of this story on ‘www.samoanews.com’.