Last December, Mikhail Sebastian decided to take a New Year’s trip to American Samoa, but when he tried to board his flight to return home to Los Angeles, he was barred. U.S. immigration officials said he had self-deported.
Weekends on All Things Considered talked with Sebastian, stateless and stranded, this fall. Born in the former Soviet Union bloc, he escaped and made his way to the U.S., where he had been living and working for 16 years. He had a work permit, but as a stateless person, he was not allowed to travel outside the U.S. He had no problems visiting the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico, but found American Samoa had its own immigration rules.
We caught up with him recently to find out if anything had changed. It hadn’t. He’s still living in limbo on the island.
“Since the first interview we had back in October, I am so thankful to NPR,” he told us by phone from the home of a family that is putting him up. Local law prevents Sebastian from working, so the American Samoan government is paying the family to house him.
“I got a lot of emails and tweets from people who really cared about the situation,” he said, “who are on my side.”
Despite the positive response, Sebastian is still stuck and he’s marking a bitter anniversary on the island.
“It’s frustrating because I didn’t expect it’s going to take a whole year,” Sebastian said. “I want to just get out of here. I just want to go back home.”
A lawyer is working his case, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has gotten involved. The UNHCR recently traveled to the island to make a video about Sebastian’s plight.
U.S. immigration officials have so far shown no indication of reversing their decision and letting him return.
Still, while 2012 was a bad year, Sebastian says he is looking ahead.
“I hope that 2013 will bring me a lot of hope and a lot of changes can be done in our broken immigration system,” he said.
There are an estimated 12 million stateless people in the world; an unknown number living in the U.S., according to the UNHCR. Sebastian says if he ever gets back home, he will work to promote the rights of these “citizens of nowhere.”