Failed Asylum Seeker Stuck in Samoa

by Jason Dzubow on October 17, 2012

in Asylum Seekers, International

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Mikhail Sebastian is an Armenian from Azerbaijan who came to the United States on a Soviet passport in 1995.  After the break-up of the U.S.S.R., neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan would take him, and Mr. Sebastian ended up stateless. 

While in Samoa, beware the Wild Samoans (shown here with the late, great Cap’t Lou)!

He filed for asylum in the U.S., but his claim was ultimately denied (in 2002) and he was ordered removed.  The U.S. immigration authorities took Mr. Sebastian into custody, but after six months, he was released because there was no country that would accept him.  As with other people who cannot be deported, DHS issued Mr. Sebastian a work permit.  He was allowed to remain in the United States, but he did not have permission to travel abroad and then return.

According to a recent article in Salon, Mr. Sebastian has attempted to satisfy his urge to travel by visiting the most exotic American destinations he can find, including Guam, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii.  To facilitate his travels, he has a  “World Passport” from the World Service Authority, which purports to be a global-governmental organization.  A World Passport is a document that is supposed to confer world citizenship and allow travel.  I have some limited experience with the World Passport, and while I think it’s a nice idea, I would not feel confident to use it as a travel document.  Worse, I think their website is a bit misleading.  They claim that many countries accept the World Passport.  While many countries may have accepted the passport once or twice (possibly by mistake), most countries do not generally accept the passport for immigration purposes.

In any case, as part of his overseas travel in U.S. territory, Mr. Sebastian took a vacation to American Samoa, an unincorporated territory (whatever that means) of the United States.  His big mistake seems to have been flying over to plain old Samoa, which is an independent country.  Even if he had not traveled to Samoa, the trip to American Samoa required passing through customs, and when immigration authorities checked him before allowing him to return to the mainland (and saw the World Passport), they found that he had an old removal order.  As a result, he was not permitted to board the return flight, and he has been stranded in American Samoa ever since.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a statement about Mr. Sebastian:

In 2002, an immigration judge with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) ordered Sebastian to depart the United States. At that time, he was not in ICE custody as the agency had deferred action on his removal. In the meantime, he had been granted employment authorization. In December 2011 when Mr. Sebastian traveled to American Samoa and Samoa, he was prohibited from returning to the United States due to the immigration judge’s order.

So for the last 10 months, Mr. Sebastian has been stuck waiting for DHS to allow him to return to the mainland, and there is no end to his ordeal in sight.  Mr. Sebastian has been writing about his predicament, and you can read more about him in his own words here.  It seems he spends most of his time at the local McDonald’s, which has air conditioning and internet access.

His case is particularly strange in that he is actually in U.S.-controlled territory, but he is not allowed to return to the mainland.  If nothing else, Mr. Sebastian’s story serves as a cautionary tale.  If you have some type of deferred action, withholding of removal or Torture Convention relief, you are better off not pushing the limits by traveling to American “territories.”  It seems that Mr. Sebastian’s case is receiving some high-level attention, so likely it will be resolved at some point.  But I am quite certain that after 10 months in Samoa, he wishes he had never taken his vacation in the first place.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Apokrif October 21, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Is it normal that, without a passport, or with a non-official passport, he was able to go to, and return from, Guam and Puerto Rico and to go to, but not return from, US Samoa?

Jason Dzubow October 22, 2012 at 9:52 am

I think so – they are U.S. territories, so he should not need a passport, but I suppose it depends on the agreement we have with each territory. I am not sure about American Samoa, which requires a traveler to pass through customs. And Samoa (as opposed to American Samoa) is an independent country, so he clearly crossed the line when he visited there.

Mikhail December 14, 2012 at 4:34 pm
popular June 25, 2014 at 12:48 pm

My friend just got ( WITHHOLDING OF REMOVAL) AND IS TRYING TO GO TO THE U.S.VIRGIN ISLANDS. WITHHOLDING STATES THAT HE CANNOT LEAVE THE THE U.S. ST.THOMAS IS PART OF THE U.S. AND IS THOUGHT OF AS SUCH. IMMIGRATION OFFICIALS HAVE BEEN GIVING HIM 2 DIFFERENT ANSWERS, SOME SAY ITS OHK, OTHERS SAY NO. NOW, IF ST.THOMAS HAS A USCIS OFFICE, AN INS OFFICE, SOCIAL SECURITY AND AN ICE FACILITY FOR DETAINMENT .SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME , WHY IT IS NOT CONSIDERED AS PART OF THE U.S .? WITHHOLDING STATES AGAIN THAT HE CANNOT TRAVEL OUT OF THE U.S. He’s not TRAVELLING TO SAY BARBADOS. BUT TO THE UNITED STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS. THIS ALMOST SOUNDS LIKE A CONTRADICTION IN TERMS OF ( WITHHOLDING) CAN SOMEONE WITH A VERY KNOWLEDGEABLE VIEW OR OPINION PLEASE SEND A REPLY. WE HAVE MORE DOCUMENTATION SUPPORTING MY FRIENDS DILEMMA, BUT WE CANT ATTACH IT. THIS WHOLE DILEMMA SOUNDS LIKE IMMIGRATION IS CONTRADICTING THEIR OWN LAWS. HELP

popular June 25, 2014 at 1:36 pm

FURTHER MORE WHILST TRAVELLING TO THE US. VIRGIN ISLANDS , ONE DOES NOT GO THROUGH CUSTOMS AND IMMIGRATION WHEN COMING FROM THE US. WHEN LEAVING THE VIRGIN ISLANDS AND COMING TO THE U.S A PASSPORT IS REQUIRED THOUGH, JUST LIKE WHEN SOMEONE IS COMING FROM, LET’S SAY JAMAICA OR EUROPE. HE ALSO SAID THAT HE IS GOING TO RESIDE IN THE US.VIRGIN ISLANDS FOR GOOD AND NOT BOTHER TO RETURN AS HE DOES NOT HAVE A PASSPORT .IT WAS ALSO STATED THAT IF HE WERE TO TRAVEL TO THE US.VIRGIN ISLANDS HE WOULD LOSE HIS WITHHOLDING STATUS , AMERICAN SOMOA IS VERY DIFFERENT FROM THE US.VIRGIN ISLANDS IN TERMS OF LAW AND RECOGNITION, HOW CAN HE LOSE A STATUS IF HE Isn’t (TECHNICALLY)LEAVING THE UNITED STATES ? SOMEONE PLEASE FIND A DEFINITIVE ANSWER (OR AS CLOSE TO ONE AS ANYONE CAN GET ). THANK YOU AGAIN

Jason Dzubow June 27, 2014 at 10:34 am

I would be very careful about taking such a trip; the person does not want to end up like the guy in Samoa (though he eventually made it back to the US).

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