In President Donald Trump’s America, asylum seekers are not even safe at their own asylum hearings.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents recently arrested a Sudanese asylum-seeker, Omer Abdelmaed, right after his scheduled asylum interview in San Francisco, California. His immigration attorney, Caleb Arring, who was accompanying him at the trial highlighted what could only be described an unprecedented move in a daunting Facebook post, explaining how his client had no criminal record and was punished for opting the legal route to citizenship, which is a much more harder and difficult process.
In his social media post, Arring said he and Abdelmaed showed up at the asylum center last Thursday at their scheduled time and were called in for an interview.
“His interview went on for about 2 hours. As with all asylum interviews, he was required to discuss the traumas he had experienced in his home country and explain why he is seeking protection in the United States,” the lawyer wrote. “A traumatizing process, but one that our government requires in order to determine whether or not someone is eligible for asylum.”
At the end of the meeting, which dug up a lot of upsetting memories, the asylum officer gave the Abdelmaed the standard response, asking him to check in a few weeks as these decisions are not made on the spot.
It was all going quite well, but then things took an unexpected turn.
“We got up to leave the office, with the asylum officer leading the way. She stopped at the door, as someone was outside and had said something to her,” Arring explained. “She said we need to wait a minute someone has a couple more questions for you. This was alarming. I’ve never in the 5 plus years I’ve been attending asylum interviews had this happen. But I tried to shrug it off, though I didn’t have much time to. Less than a minute later the door opened, someone who I assume is a supervisor at the asylum office came in with 3-4 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Officers. The ICE Officers put handcuffs on my client and said they were taking him into custody.”
This was the first time in five years that he had been handling asylum cases that Arring saw ICE officials arresting a person at his own asylum interview.
“I asked why. At first they wouldn’t even answer me. I demanded that they tell me why he was being taken into custody and they told me it is because he is in the country illegally because he overstayed his visa,” he continued. “I stated that he was an applicant for asylum with a pending application at the asylum office. The officer said, not anymore, we just arrested him so the asylum office doesn’t have jurisdiction anymore.”
First, as the Facebook post also pointed out, even if asylum seekers enter the country on a valid visa, be it student, work or a visit visa, they usually overstay it as getting scheduled for an asylum interview takes about three or more years. Not to mention, most people apply for asylum because they don’t have a valid legal status.
Second, people apply for asylum because they fear persecution in their own country, which also stands true for Abdelmaed, who was an opponent of the ruling political party in Sudan and fled to the U.S. to save his life. His wife holds a green card while his son was born in California. Abdelmaed’s siblings also hold green cards.
“The idea is that if you are in danger in your home country, but you come to the United States and you follow the rules (file an application for asylum and don’t break the law while you are here) you can ask the United States government to protect you,” the attorney continued. “This is meant to be a safe process. One where the applicant doesn’t have to fear being arrested. If you are to be a afraid of arrest, why would you ask for help? Why not keep hiding?”
Meanwhile, ICE spokesperson James Schwab told Splinter News Abdelmaed was indeed in their custody and he had violated the terms of his visa, which was issued in 2014.
“Mr. Abdelmaed is wanted for criminal charges by law enforcement officials in the United Arab Emirates,” Schwab reportedly added.
While Abdelmaed did live in the UAE and had a wife and a child there, his brother said he was not aware of any criminal charges.
Thumbnail/Banner: ICE Handout via Reuters