Two Palestinians traveled more than 7,000 miles, through eight countries, to present themselves at the port of entry in Nogales more than a year ago.
They were seeking refuge in the United States.
“Because it’s a free country and you have the right to live as a human being,” Hisham Shabantold an immigration officer when asked why he sought asylum.
Both men have been in an immigration detention center in Florence, about 80 miles north of Tucson, since November 2014. In May, after an immigration judge found no evidence that they would be in danger if they returned home, their bond was set at $9,000 each. They said they couldn’t afford it.
While the case of Mounis Hammouda, 29, is ongoing, Shaban, 32, is stuck in limbo since his asylum claim was denied in August because an immigration judge didn’t find credible his fear of returning home due to the general political and economic situation in Gaza. His attorneys, who weren’t representing him when the decision was made, believe procedural misunderstandings and lack of evidence to support his claim were contributing factors.
Since the United States doesn’t recognize the state of Palestine, it can’t deport Shaban back to Gaza, and the likelihood of other countries accepting him is slim.
But the U.S. can’t detain someone indefinitely, so Shaban’s pro bono attorneys will file a petition for his release during his upcoming six-month review, they said.
Shaban’s continued detention “seems to violate any principle we have as Americans,” said Liban Yousuf, civil rights director with the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Arizona and one of two attorneys representing both men.
And the possibility of sending him to a third country worries them. “We don’t know what will happen to him in any of these countries. We want him to either be released here under supervision or sent back to his family,” Yousuf said.
“They are refusing to release me here,” Shaban said through an interpreter from Florence, a tattered envelope with his case documents in hand, “and they are refusing to keep me here.”