To: President Donald Trump, The California State House, The California State Senate, Governor Gavin Newsom, The United States House of Representatives, and The United States Senate
Stop deportation of stateless United States residents
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I, Mikhail Sebastian, a 39 year old male is a stateless person who have been living in the United States of America for 16 years as a responsible tax payer with no criminal background. I came to the United States in 1995 as a citizen of ex-Soviet Union, a country that ceased to exist and along with it, my citizenship. At that time I was 22 and tried to file for political asylum in Houston, TX. Since I was not able to afford lawyers, I defended my own case in front of an immigration judge, not knowing any of the vast laws and nuances of U.S. immigration procedure. My case was denied, I was told I would be deported. This was an issue for me, and the United States, because I am is one of the estimated 4,000 people living in the U.S. whom is considered “stateless”, or having no legal rights to any country or place to live. Difficulty often originates in that states are often reluctant to acknowledge the presence of stateless people on their territories. More often, they are counted as undifferentiated "aliens", if their presence is recognized at all. I have no rights afforded to me as a citizen. But, where do you send a man who has no home?
I was born in Baku, Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic to Armenian Christian-Orthodox parents, and Azerbaijan does not recognize me as their citizen. During the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia my family had to flee for safety after my aunt was killed by local people in Baku, by being stoned to death. War was escalating in the area rapidly. I lived briefly in Moscow but Russian authorities did not provide me with residency or permission to stay permanently. Finally, my parents moved to Turkmen S.S.R. in order to save their family from persecution. Since the collapse of U.S.S.R., Turkmenistan, predominantly with a Muslim population, had become a dictatorship regime. Russian language was eliminated, the non-Turkmen population was persecuted, and those who went against the dictatorship regime were jailed. As a student I was bullied by Turkmens because of my nationality, religious beliefs, refusal to learn the local language, my opposition against the dictatorship regime, and my sexual orientation as gay. Any act of homosexuality was punishable by law with up to five years in jail. I did not adjust well or fit in.
I was able to finally obtain a U.S. visa and flee persecution of my beliefs and sexual orientation, coming to the U.S. for freedom and asylum. As previously stated, I could not afford a costly trial lawyer at the time of my case and was ordered deported. However, I could not leave the U.S. to travel anywhere else as similarly no other country offered permission or asylum.
In August 2002, I was “apprehended” by immigration authorities. I was placed into custody at C.C.A. (Correction Cooperation of America) in Houston, TX, to be deported to where, i did not know, as there is no place to take a man who is stateless. After six month of detention, in February 2003, I was released on order of supervision and became officially stateless since I could not be deported. D.H.S. gave me authorization to live and work in the U.S. as stateless, and I was told that the only way to fix my immigration status was if the U.S. would pass comprehensive immigration reform, which has never happened. My Order of Supervision stated that I should report to INS every three months, which I have done for the past eight years since my release in 2003.
In 2010 I contacted the United Nations trying to get documentation, such as a type of passport for stateless people, and I was referred to World Service Authority, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. who were an authority regarding the issuance of World Passports to stateless people and refugees.
On December 29, 2011, I decided to travel to the U.S. territory of American-Samoa, which is overseen by the Department of Interior. I was informed by the Los Angeles Immigration Department that I could travel to that territory only if I could obtain travel permission from the Attorney General of American Samoa, since it was a territory, and not a state. I obtained that permission. Later on after I got stranded here I was told by Attorney General office here that they made a mistake giving me permission to enter the U.S. territory based on my Employment Authorization Card (they thought it was a green card) and World Passport which apparently does not consider to be a valid passport under INA.
Hawaiian Airlines checked my documents in L.A. and in Honolulu and I was told that everything was in order for my departure and return to the United States proper. On my way back, on January 02, 2012, I was denied boarding by a station manager of Hawaiian Airlines, who told me that the Honolulu airport Immigration Office did not authorize my return as I did not have permission to return to the United States. I procured my official documentation from I.C.E. stating my status in U.S. as stateless. The airport immigration office informed me ...
Why is this important?
I am a stateless person seeking entry into the United States to ensure that I can be present for the reopening and rehearing of my asylum case. I was born in the former U.S.S.R. and have resided in the United States for about 16 years after entering on December 12, 1995 on a B1/B2 visa as citizen of ex Soviet Union. In February 1996, I applied for asylum on basis of ethnicity (Armenian) and religion (Christianity) during the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia caused in part by anti-Armenian sentiment by muslim populated Azerbaijan along with significant persecution and discrimination towards Armenians, Russians and openly practice gay population in Muslim populated Turkmenistan (part of former Soviet Republic). I never brought the issue of being gay during my asylum hearing in 1996 as I was not aware about gay situation in US and was scared to open myself, was afraid of being humiliated or worth hated. My applications for asylum and withholding of removal were denied on October 17, 1996. I was granted voluntary departure and told to leave by November 18, 1996. I could not leave United States due to circumstances beyond my control as I found myself stateless without country.
I tried to get travel documents on numerous occasions from former republics of U.S.S.R. including Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan but received denials each time. The Consulate of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles in written denied my request for travel document and citizenship and I.C.E. in Los Angeles has the copy of that letter. The Department of Homeland Security later released me under Order of Supervision in 2003 ( I continued reporting for supervision through my last report in October 2011) after their efforts to secure travel documents for me also failed. When U.S.S.R. dissolved, I considered a citizen be neither Russia or other former republics of Soviet block due to their newly adopted citizenship law after gaining independency from Soviet Union. The UNHCR, learning of my situation, identified me as a person of concern to them because of my stateless status.
I applied for and received visitor permit to enter American Samoa and entered on December 29, 2011 for a New Year holiday vacation. I believed that I could travel to American Samoa without being considered departing the United States after being told by immigration authorities in Los Angeles that it was not a problem getting to American Samoa as long as I could obtain travel permission from American Samoa Government since American Samoa considered a territory not a state, which I did. During my visit to American Samoa I also traveled for one day to Western Samoa. I had no idea that Western Samoa was independent state until I arrived there, I thought that Eastern and Western Samoa was part of United States territory of American Samoa. I was denied trying to board my flight from American Samoa to Los Angeles via Honolulu on January 2, 2012. This is when I first was made aware that I could not return.
During my trip, my pro bono attorney, Ms. Lauren Gibson, Esq. was contacted by Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Office of Chief Counsel that they wanted to initiate a motion to reopen my asylum case. I would be able to bring new evidence, especially in light of the fact that I am gay without country and face severe persecution if ever able to be forced to return to any country of the former U.S.S.R.
The UNHCR and U.S. Department of Homeland Security identified me as part of a vulnerable population because I am stateless. I must return to the United States so I am present for my reopened immigration court proceedings. I must make sure I have a chance to give new evidence about why I must receive asylum.
As a stateless with no papers to enter another country as refugee or asylum seeker I am like a bird with nowhere to rest on the ground, but which can't spend his whole life in the sky. Only the oceans, the skies over my head. I cannot legally enter another state where I face the same illegalities which I face in the deporting state. United States was my home for 16 years, my life, my education, my carrier where I strongly established ties to the community in Houston, TX where I lived before and in Los Angeles, CA where I lived before my short vacation trip to the U.S. territory in South Pacific.
My asylum claim was viewed as important enough to reopen by ICE. They initiated the desire to reopen my case. It would be counter to the opinion of a Department of Homeland Security agency to allow me to receive humanitarian parole so I can be present for my case.
American Samoa has no immigration or refugee system. I am stuck in limbo unless I can return to the United States and present my case before the immigration courts.