In many ways, my life in Colorado describes the American Dream. I came to this country in 1981 and for my entire adult life, I’ve lived and worked here. I sold General Motors cars for a living, as a sales manager, including Cadillacs, and even had an interest in a local used car dealership. I drive a Yukon truck. My wife and I had three children and the oldest child is now in college. I’ve paid taxes my entire career. Now I’m 61 and have given the last 40 years to this country. I am proud of what my family and I have been able to achieve.
But there’s a catch. I’m one of about 200,000 Americans who are “stateless.” That means no country will claim me as a citizen.
My parents were born in Palestine, but they were living and working as teachers in Qatar when they had me. So, I never got citizenship from Palestine or Qatar. Stateless people like me get stuck in a legal limbo where we can’t go back to where we came from. But we can’t move on, either.
And that is what happened to me. I love America and it has been my pleasure to find myself stuck here, a little bit like Tom Hanks’s character in that 2004 film, The Terminal. At the same time, I would like to resolve my status. And there is finally some hope for stateless people in America like me.
I first came to the United States as a student. I had an unreliable immigration lawyer who was later disbarred. Eventually, the U.S. tried to deport me, and I even spent some time in immigration detention. But no country would claim me, so the U.S. immigration services released me on a supervision order in 1995. Since then, I’ve explored claims of citizenship to Qatar, Jordan, and to Lebanon. But they have all been exhausted and found to have no merit.
I have been able to work when I have a work permit, but sometimes it expires, and I must reapply. So, I am always in fear that the other shoe will drop, even when things seem to be going well. It is also unlikely I will be able to claim Social Security when I am older, even though I have paid into it for years, and I am afraid about the future.
Statelessness is a breach of International Human Rights Law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States helped to create and has endorsed, says every person has the right to a nationality. But here in the U.S., there is no specific pathway for stateless people like me to regularize our status. In fact, there isn’t even a statutory or regulatory definition of statelessness here.
I’m excited, though, because that seems to finally be changing. In 2021, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced a new commitment. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas plans to adopt a definition of statelessness. He also plans to create an assessment process. That process will give stateless people like me some recognition and consistent treatment. It gives me hope that stateless people won’t risk being unnecessarily detained anymore.
The U.S. Government also has an opportunity to end these kinds of struggles. We can update our immigration laws to recognize and address stateless people here. That’s why two Congressional leaders from Maryland, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, and U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, have introduced the Stateless Protection Act. It was drafted with the support of United Stateless, an advocacy organization I belong to. It is dedicated to promoting the human rights of stateless people.
The Stateless Protection Act would resolve the status of stateless people in America, defining statelessness under U.S. law for the first time, creating an opportunity for protected status for stateless people and providing benefits such as green-card eligibility and a pathway to U.S. citizenship. It deserves broad bipartisan support.
I love this country, but for the past four decades I have often wondered whether it loves me back. I love my wife, a U.S. citizen, and my three children, who are all U.S. citizens. All we are asking for as a family is the right to enjoy our lives without worrying about immigration enforcement coming to knock at the door.
Imad Sager lives in Parker.
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