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Why Is The Department Of Homeland Security Determined To Deport Malik Jarno?

by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

I do not understand the relentless and expensive campaign that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has waged against Malik Jarno. Malik is a mentally retarded, teenaged orphan from Guinea who has had to endure almost three years of custody in a facility where he was commingled with adult criminals. What did he do? He came to the United States seeking freedom, safety, and asylum protection. More than seventy members of Congress, including myself, numerous public interest organizations, and thousands of constituents spoke up on Malik's behalf. DHS Under Secretary Hutchinson released Malik to a refugee shelter in Pennsylvania.

At the asylum hearing, the DHS attorneys turned a relatively uncomplicated asylum hearing into a full-blown trial. The government and Jarno's team of pro bono lawyers disagreed about almost everything, including Jarno's name and age. Advocates who observed the hearing say it spiraled badly out of control and rarely touched on the core issue: Does Jarno have a well-founded fear of persecution if he is returned to his homeland?

The seriousness with which DHS has approached this case can be seen in the decision on who would represent the government at the hearing. Asylum cases usually are handled solely by a local office. In Malik's case, attorneys from DHS headquarters have been detailed at taxpayer expense to the immigration court in Arlington, Virginia, to provide assistance to the locals.

Typically, witnesses in asylum cases are treated with respect and courtesy. In Malik's case, witnesses, including international and foreign governmental officials who have appeared as witnesses have been subjected to hours and days of seemingly endless questioning. This inexplicably has included details such as, "How many people fit inside the mosque? What kind of car did Malik's father drive?" And, "Would you please give me the telephone numbers of particular Guineans who knew Malik in New York."

According to observers at the hearing, DHS conducted an allegedly "routine" overseas investigation to Guinea and secured a letter from Guinean officials which states that Malik's birth certificate may be false. In December 2003, however, DHS sought to deport Malik to Guinea by obtaining a travel document from the Guinean Embassy in Washington D.C. using the very same birth certificate. The Embassy had already vouched for the birth certificate before DHS conducted its "routine" investigation. At Malik's hearing, DHS notably failed to produce any U.S. governmental officials to explain this investigation. The officials perhaps could have explained why in October, 2003, DHS sent a letter to the Guinean Embassy in Washington, D.C. confirming Malik's identity based on the birth certificate.

Malik's home in Guinea has been destroyed. The government of Guinea left its remnants standing at Kaporo Rails, Guinea. It is a charred, decimated symbol of the political violence which occurred there in March of 1998. He has nothing to return to in Guinea.
Arguments and testimony concluded on Oct. 1st. Immigration Judge Joan Churchill is expected to rule sometime next month. Before issuing a ruling, she will have to review hearing transcripts from a hearing that stretched almost two months - albeit with a sizable break in the middle - and hundreds of exhibits. Judge Churchill has said that it is the largest body of evidence she has ever seen in an asylum case.

Malik has shown very strong evidence for political asylum. He has lost three long years of his life in detention centers at the hands of our government. It would be unjust to deport him now to a country that appears to me to be likely to persecute him upon return. We must be more humane in dealing with unaccompanied children who seek asylum in the United States.


About The Author

Sheila Jackson Lee is hailed by EBONY magazine as one of the "100 Most Fascinating Black Women of the Century," and "Congressional Quarterly," as one of the 50 most effective members in Congress. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1994 to represent the 18th Congressional District of Houston, Texas. In her most recent election to the 108th Congress, she captured over 77% of the vote. Congresswoman Jackson Lee's swearing-in as a Member of the 108h Congress marks her fifth term in the U.S. House of Representatives where she continues to be an active member of Congress, pursuing and successfully achieving a number of legislative objectives. She has distinguished herself as a staunch defender of the Constitution, civil rights and juvenile justice, protection of America's health needs, gun safety and responsibility, economic empowerment for low and middle income America. In addition, the Congresswoman has been outspoken on human rights issues and has passed legislation that instructs the National Science Foundation to donate surplus computers and scientific equipment to elementary and secondary schools. Congresswoman Jackson Lee sits on the House Committees on Science, Judiciary, and the Select Committee on Homeland Security.


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