US Citizens in Yemen Accuse US Embassy of Passport Confiscation | Yemen

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At the end of 2012, Khaled boarded a plane in America, bound for Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. Since arriving in the United States at the age of 19, Khaled had worked non-stop except for a few months here and there in various jobs, hoping to someday own his own business.

Every few years, when Khaled felt he had saved enough money, he would return to Yemen for a few weeks or months to visit his family.

He had no idea that this time he would spend next year stranded in Yemen without a passport, unable to return home to the United States.

A few weeks after the start of his trip, Khaled went to the American embassy in Sana’a to apply for a passport for his son. Khaled claims he was taken to a back room and questioned. His American passport and his Yemeni passport were confiscated. “They pressured me and rushed me to sign a paper. I feared for the safety of my family and felt threatened, so I returned my passport and signed what they wanted me to sign, ”he wrote to a lawyer, with the help of a lawyer. translator.

Khaled is one of more than a dozen US citizens who claim that their passports have been revoked for various reasons at the US Embassy in Sanaa since 2012. The Guardian identifies him by his first name only because he fears retaliation from the United States. government.

The reasons for the revocations are not clear. The State Department alleges that some of the passports were issued fraudulently, sometimes claiming that the individual had another name or pseudonym before coming to the United States. Activists say that in some cases the name in question appears to have been coined at the embassy, ​​and in others was the result of a divergence rooted in a Yemeni tribal name, which often consists of three or four words and is sometimes amended in the US Naturalization Procedure.

“The pattern of confiscations, which affect all American Yemenis, raises serious constitutional issues,” said Yaman Salahi, attorney at the Asian Law Caucus.

A coalition of nine community and civil rights organizations including the Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus and the American Civil Liberties Union in California last week submitted a report to the United States Human Rights Network. The report will then be forwarded for consideration by the CERD Committee to the UN in Geneva.

The report alleges that US citizens had their passports revoked without due process; many say they were subjected to coercive interrogations. In most of the cases documented in the report, American Yemenis went to the United States Embassy in Sana’a to complete routine travel documents. Some American citizens have been stranded in Yemen for a year.

Fear within the Yemeni American community has made it difficult for groups to get a clear idea of ​​the extent of the problem. Civil rights groups claim there are more than a dozen cases, but probably many more; the State Department confirms revocations have taken place, but says a previously cited number of 100 cases is a gross exaggeration and will not provide numbers. A spokesperson for the Consular Affairs Office said: “Passports have been returned to many people. In cases where an individual’s passport has been revoked, the individual has been notified in writing.

Since September 11, Yemen has been an important ally of the United States, and the American embassy in Sana’a has been at the heart of the controversy. In September 2008, the United States Embassy in Sana’a was attacked by rioters. Yemen was under travel advisory for US citizens from August 6, 2013 to January 28, 2014. The country was also home to Anwar al-Awlaki, the first US citizen to be killed by a US drone.

A general view of the grounds of the American Embassy in Sana’a. Photography: Mohamed Al Sayaghi Photograph: Mohamed Al-Sayaghi / Reuters

In May 2014, the embassy was closed for almost five weeks.

Khaled says that on the day his passport was taken from him, he was not allowed to leave the embassy until he agreed to sign a document admitting identity fraud – which he did fact and that he disputes. The Guardian has obtained a copy of the statement, which is in English and is typed on US State Department letterhead.

“They threatened to revoke my passport and my son’s passport, and they threatened to involve me in terrorism cases,” Khaled said.

After leaving the embassy, ​​Khaled says his officials refused to answer his emails or phone calls. Without proof of citizenship, he wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to return to the United States, and since he wasn’t in California to run the business he co-owned, it eventually closed.

He was stuck. Eleven months and one day after his passport was confiscated, Khaled says he received official notification that his passport had been revoked, and was told he could apply for a limited validity passport, which would allow him to return to the States. – United but not to leave.

On February 8, 2014, after spending more than a year in Yemen, the embassy issued him a limited-validity passport. He used it to return home to the United States, but it was immediately taken away at airport immigration.

“My citizenship held my future and allowed me to access my future. My future has been corrupted, ”Khalid said in a telephone interview with the Guardian via a translator.

A spokesperson for the Office of Consular Affairs said, “In every US embassy and consulate, we treat all applicants for consular services with dignity and respect because we strictly follow the law and regulations. ”

Typically, according to the State Department, a passport can be revoked for a number of reasons, including citizenship fraud, non-payment of child support, a felony arrest warrant, a criminal court order prohibiting departure from the United States or a request for extradition to the United States. Passport revocation is not the same as denaturalization – forfeiture of citizenship – which requires a much higher burden of proof.

Once a person has been notified in writing that their passport has been revoked, they can request a hearing, which usually takes place at the State Department in Washington DC.

Fatima Iqbal, a lawyer at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has represented Khaled since he contacted his organization from Yemen by email. She was part of a team of three lawyers who represented Khaled at a hearing in Washington in April. Iqbal said: “The hearing was devoid of due process. The ministry relied almost exclusively on this forced declaration.

Patrick Weil, a visiting professor at Yale Law School, says the State Department is acting outside its authority.

“The way the State Department confiscated passports, arguing that this person was not legally naturalized was an abuse of power, because if they thought it was a problem with their naturalization, they should have asked the Department of Homeland Security to go to federal court. court for examination of their denaturalization. This is the way to pursue them. The State Department has no authority to assess that a naturalization has been decided illegally, ”Weil explains.

On July 11, Iqbal received a letter from the State Department containing a ruling, saying he would uphold Khaled’s passport revocation. He is not denaturalized, but Khaled is now unable to leave the country. His wife and five children remain in Yemen. “I talk to them on the phone every day. If I don’t talk to them or see them on a computer, I lose the meaning of my life.

Yaman Salahi, attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, said: “Those affected are generally from the working class, so asking them to pay lawyers and to travel to Washington DC places a huge financial burden on their families.

Salahi has filed two Freedom Of Information Act requests for information on the scope of passport revocations; they are still waiting.

According to the Asian Law Caucus, a person waited 10 months and 20 days after their passport was seized at the embassy before receiving an official letter stating that it had been revoked. Another waited nine months, 15 days; and a third individual, eight months, 13 days.

The US Embassy in Sana’a declined to comment. A State Department spokesperson said, “There is no legal or regulatory time frame within which notification must be made. The ministry acts swiftly and once this decision is made, the notification is sent in a timely manner.

Jan Brown, a New York immigration lawyer who has many clients within the Yemeni American community, has witnessed four recent passport revocation cases, with echoes of Khaled’s case.

Neither Brown nor his clients are in contact with any of the nine civil rights groups that filed the report with the UN. He says his clients are all Yemeni Americans, “all men, all between the ages of 40 and 60, and have all been in America for many, many years.” One of the four had his passport returned; the other three cases are still open.

He describes the situation of a client: “He was questioned, he was told that he would be placed on a terrorist list, they tried to make him confess that passports had been obtained fraudulently.

Brown has practiced immigration law in New York for 36 years and says he has never faced passport revocations before. “I’ve never seen him before at all. We assume that if it was done, it was done sparingly or sporadically, but it was never done on this scale.

His other three clients, like Khaled, were stranded in Yemen for six to seven months before being offered limited-validity travel passports to return home.

Brown was able to obtain a copy of a client’s self-declaration from the State Department. Unlike Khaled’s, the declaration, signed at the Sanaa embassy, ​​is handwritten in Arabic.

“They go after people like my clients who are just people. They are not interested in politics, they live, work and take care of their families.

Like Iqbal, Brown attended a DC hearing for a client. “I felt it was not completely impartial,” he said.

When asked if people would be willing to talk about their experiences, he replied that they probably would not. “They are confused or traumatized.”


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