Mikhail Sebastian, 39, a stateless person who resided in the United States for 16 years. A person without country and nationality but with long-term residency in the United States, the country he considers home. Mikhail is not a criminal and US tax-payer. He was not undocumented not an illegal alien, just a person caught by our broken immigration policy who is in legal limbo. He came to the United States in 1995 to seek protection against persecution, discrimination but unfortunately he did not get a fair trial back in 1996 as he could not afford costly lawyer.
He got stuck in US territory of American Samoa since December 2011 when he traveled for four day New Year holiday vacation and was barred from entering the mainland of the United States due to what US officials described as self-deportation. The person without country and no place to go by all international law and human rights principles he is the victim of our broken immigration system who integrated in the United States, has strong ties and should be returned back to his home in Los Angeles. He just a victim of injustice.
He was born in Baku, Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic to Armenian Christian Orthodox parents. Azerbaijan does not recognize him as their citizen. During the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia his family had to flee for safety. His aunt was killed by local people in Baku, stoned to death. War escalated. He lived briefly in Moscow but Russian authorities did not provide him with residency or permission to live there. Finally, his parents moved to Turkmen SSR in order to save the family from persecution. They could not get accustomed to the life there. Since the collapse of USSR, Turkmenistan, predominantly Muslim, became a dictatorship regime. Russian language was eliminated, non turkmen population were persecuted, those who went against the dictatorship regime were jailed. As a student he was bullied by Turkmens because of his nationality, religious belief, refusal to learn local language, his opposition against dictatorship regime and his sexual orientation as gay. Any act of homosexuality was punishable by law up to five years in jail.
He finally was able to obtain US visa and flee that horrible place, coming to US for freedom and asylum. But his case was denied and he was ordered deported. He could not leave US to anywhere as he could not obtain any permission from any other country who would be able to grant him asylum. It was beyond his control.
In August 2002, he was apprehended by immigration authorities and placed into custody at CCA (Correction Cooperation of America) Houston to be deported to where, he had no idea. After six month of detention, in February 2003, he was released on order of supervision and became officially stateless since he could not be deported. DHS gave him authorization to live and work in US as stateless, was told that the only way to fix his immigration status was if US would pass comprehensive immigration reform, which never happened. His order of supervision stated that he should report to INS every three month, which he has done all the time but was never informed he could not leave the US or allowed to travel outside of US.
In 2010 he contacted United Nations trying to get some sort of passport for stateless people and he was referred to World Service Authority, non profit organization based in Washington, DC who were in authority of issuing World Passport to stateless people and refugees.
On December 29, 2011, he decided to travel to US territory of American Samoa that is overseen by the Department of Interior. He was told by Los Angeles immigration that he could travel to that territory only if he could obtain travel permission from Attorney General of American Samoa, since it was territory, not a state, which he did. Hawaiian Airlines checked his documents in LA and in Honolulu and he was told that everything was ok for him to go and come back. On his way back, on January 02, 2012, he was denied boarding by station manager of Hawaiian Airlines, Judith McCoy, who told him that Honolulu airport Immigration office did not authorize them to board him back since he did not have permission to reenter US. And he did have official paper issued to him by ICE stating his status in US as stateless. They said that since he left he voluntarily deported himself from the US. Attorney General office of American Samoa is working hard to get him back and they keep arguing with DHS that American Samoa is USA and the person cannot deport himself from US to US territory.
The American Samoa Congressman office in Washington, DC, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Department of Interior, all are working hard to try to get him back but the last answer is from DHS, which he did not get so far.
He came to the US to avoid persecution, war and discrimination. For him, the US is not only the land of opportunity, but freedom, protection, safety, values and ideals. He is a hard working person, has good moral standing and he knew he will be able to accomplish anything, that's how he sees US as his home in spite of spending six month in immigration jail and now unjustified confinement on US territory of American Samoa. It's hard to feel being abandoned and torn apart from the culture, carrier, life and friendship he has carved over 16 years of his life in US. He does not have any other place to go. United States is the only home and country he knows. He contributed a lot to the community in Houston, TX where he lived before and Los Angeles, CA, where he lives now. He studied English and literature at the Turkmen University, and after 2 years of study he had to drop and flee the dictatorship regime. In the United States he continued his education, studied Spanish at Houston Community College, has travel management diploma from Ashworth College in GA, diploma in interior design from San Francisco Interior Design Institute, working on his MBA in Business Administration from Ashworth University, GA. Two years ago he discovered his passion to specialty coffee and became certified barista at Specialty Coffee House in Hollywood, CA. He always attends exposiums held by SCAA, certified as barista by International Academy for Specialty Coffee and holds Level 1 Barista Certification from Specialty Coffee Association of America.
UNHCR mandate is to prevent and reduce statelessness, and to protect stateless people, which they do. If civil society has an interest in elevating the issue of statelessness, the government should have a solemn obligation to do the same. All of us and anyone who are citizen of this wonderful land know that it's a critical part of our daily life and our own dignity, but for Mikhail as stateless individual, these aspects are a constant challenge. Without the rights to have rights, he is the most vulnerable person in the world. He lived 16 years in US, the only place he considers as his home and his country. He does not have any other place to go. Los Angeles is his home, his life, his job and his carrier.
Everyone should have the ability to belong, to consider themselves part of a larger community whenever they reside.
He probably made a mistake by coming to American Samoa, he thought he would just spend four days of his New Year Eve vacation and go back to his job as he hardly takes any days off, He work every day as he loves his job and loves making people happy serving them specialty coffee that has a lot of science behind it than just regular cup of joe. He truly did not know he could not travel outside the US and he did not know that his World Passport that was issued according to UN Declaration for Human Rights by WSA would cause all this trouble. He thought it was some type of UN passport for stateless people that would allow stateless person to travel freely.
Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that "injustice anywhere is a threat of justice everywhere". The Due Process and equal protection clauses embodied in US Constitution and Bill of Rights apply to every "person", and are not limited to US citizens. According to Due Process Clause any person, lawful or illegal or conditional resident, including stateless people and those on order of supervision, are granted the same fundamental, undeniable constitutional rights granted to all Americans.
Most people take passport for granted, except those who have ever been without one. They know how confining it is to be without the right paperwork. They know what it's like to take the first step into the ghastly limbo of statelessness. These people live in the fear of being rounded up and deported, often to countries they don't know. The life of stateless person is one of degradation and exposure to fear.
We feel that Mikhail is branded for the rest of his life and trying to get his voice and case be heard to help him to get back to his life in Los Angeles.
Stateless people in our country should be protected and in order to do so we have to petition US authorities to join, sign and ratify 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. It's estimated that there are around 4,000 stateless people living in US and Mikhail is one of them.
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.
Please help us to sign this petition and allow Mikhail to return back to his life in Los Angeles, to his job, his carrier, and his family at the coffee shop. He dreams that one day he will be able to participate in US Barista Championship and win the title, and we hope that his dream will come true.
Statelessness is not an unsolvable problem. Amnesty International USA and Refugees International reccomend that: "Governments respect the basic human rights of all individuals to have nationality, adhere to international standards to protect stateless people, reduce statelessness by facilitating acquisition of nationality".
Stateless people live at daily risk of human rights infringements. Many are trapped in a nightmarish legal limbo from which there is currently no escape. Stateless people practically don't exist. Without documents they are nobody.
We have to address the status of stateless persons in the United States, their human rights and rights to international protection.