By Adel A. Mozip
More than 20 known cases have surfaced in the last four months of Yemeni-Americans whose passports have been confiscated in Yemen while trying to renew them. It seems that the usual scenario is that American citizens of Yemeni descent have had their passports taken away when they go to the American Embassy in Sana’a to either renew their passports or get a visa for an immediate relative. Not only is it common for the embassy to decline a passport renewal or deny a visa but, in addition, citizens are also having their passports confiscated.
The Embassy of the United States in Sana’a claims they are taking these actions because there was “fraud” involved in the process. However, in a classified document leaked by WikiLeaks, the cable from Sana’a mentions that “all Immigrant Visa (IV) cases are considered fraudulent until proven otherwise.”
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, component of the Department of Homeland Security, a passport application may be denied or a passport be revoked in some cases such as when a warrant of arrest has been issued against the applicant or when the passport has been obtained fraudulently or issued with error.
However there are cases where Yemeni-Americans go to renew their passports in the Embassy and end up being interrogated, and in the process, blackmailed into signing self-incriminating documents.
Mukhtar Alkhanshley, a Yemeni American activist in San Francisco, California recognizes that there were cases of fraud, especially in the 1970-90’s. “But the vast majority of people who have pending cases aren’t frauds, liars, untruthful etc.,” he added.
Alkhanshley argues that with all the new procedures and technological advancements (bone testing, DNA testing), it is impossible to be fraudulent. Working as a paralegal under an immigration attorney, he says that there are stark differences in the way Yemenis are treated in U.S. embassies throughout the region. For example, if any dual-national gets married overseas and wants to bring their spouse into the U.S., it takes three to six months, while according to Alkhanshley it takes Yemeni-Americans three to six years to do the same,
“The biggest issue for me is that people are having their civil liberties literally ripped away from their hands. Even if someone has lied to the U.S. government all their lives, used fraudulent documents, is a member of the communist, Nazi, or terrorist parties or groups, it is impossible under U.S. law to take away someone’s passport or citizenship without going through the legal system and for the person to be convicted,” he said.
When asked for comment on this issue, the U.S. embassy in Sana’a referred us to the State Department. “While we do not comment on individual cases, we take all passport fraud allegations seriously,” said State Department officials.
“U.S. passports are the property of the United States Government and under certain circumstances can be revoked. A passport bearer is notified of the revocation and must surrender the passport. If the bearer is overseas, the bearer will be provided with a limited-validity passport good only for a direct return to the United States. The revocation of a passport is the cancellation of the document and does not affect the citizenship status of the bearer,” the officials added.
Alkhanshley interviewed and documented horrendous cases of people, mostly older men, who were asked to come to the embassy for an interview which turned into a severe interrogation, threatening their lives and their freedom. An old man in his 70s was one of the victims of these measures. US citizen for over 55 years and retiree, was harshly detained after he came to the embassy.
“They somehow had a copy of all his retirement checks and the officers would take it and shove it in his face and said that he would no longer receive one more penny,” tells Alkhanshley. “Could any of us imagine having worked with sweat and blood for over a half a century, 55 years, and someone taking away all your hard work? The person was in tears telling his story and said that he wished the officer would have just shot him because he couldn’t stand to be in the interview any longer.”
A committee was formed in Michigan, New York, and Washington D.C. with Yemeni-American activists and community leaders, in order to stop these horrific actions by the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a. The committee has met numerous times with regional and state officials such as Congressman John D. Dingell and the U.S. Attorney for Southeastern Michigan to discuss the plight of Yemeni-Americans seeking immigration assistance. The team is also working with attorneys who are helping in this matter in getting back the passports and making efforts to stop this racial profiling.
If you are involved in such a case, please get in touch with the committee at firstname.lastname@example.org or (313) 574-6979.
Adel A. Mozip is a Yemeni American software developer in Detroit, Michigan. He is also the print designer of the Yemeni American News and a community activist.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect La Voix du Yémen’s editorial policy.