Local News

Palestinian man's deportation hits snag: US doesn't recognize his country

Posted May 20, 2016 4:16 p.m. EDT
Updated May 20, 2016 7:13 p.m. EDT

— Similar to the main character in the movie "The Terminal," Alaa Yasin is a man without a homeland, according to the U.S. government. Unlike the movie, however, Yasin has spent the last eight months in a jail cell instead of a terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Yasin, 27, came to the U.S. three years ago from his home in the occupied West Bank for a short visit and later applied for a student visa to take classes at Wake Technical Community College. He gave his uncle's address in Garner as his residence while in the U.S. but then rented an apartment a few miles away.

When federal immigration agents caught up with him last year, he admitted he provided false information on his visa application and pleaded guilty in September to federal charges related to that and to illegally working at his uncle's pizzeria.

U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle sentenced Yasin to the time he spent in jail before his plea and then ordered he be deported.

But because the U.S. doesn't recognize the Palestinian National Authority, which governs the West Bank as an official foreign government, sending Yasin home is more difficult than putting him on a plane to the Middle East.

"I'm tired of this stress," Yasin told WRAL News recently in a phone interview from a detention facility in southern Georgia, where he is being held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"I am not fighting my case," he said. "I gave them everything they want. I gave them the passport, and they got the permission from Israel for me to go to border."

ICE officials say they have been trying for months to arrange a charter flight to get Yasin to the West Bank because there is no formal deportation process in place for the region.

"I’m not going to stay all my life here just because you can’t find charter flight," he said.

ICE isn't supposed to hold people being deported indefinitely. They're required to remove them from the U.S. within 180 days, but the agency can exceed that if it expects the deportation to happen in the foreseeable future.

ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said that is the case with Yasin.

"ICE is currently coordinating with governments in the region regarding a pathway for the removal of individuals directly to the West Bank," Cox said in an email to WRAL News. "As Mr. Yasin is significantly likely to be removed in the foreseeable future, and his criminal status places him in ICE’s highest priority category for removal, he remains in custody pending his removal from the United States."

During the 2014-15 fiscal year, ICE deported 66 people to Israel, which includes Palestinian territories, Cox said. That was a tiny fraction of the more than 235,000 people deported that year.

Federal authorities said during his September court hearing that there's no evidence that Yasin is a member of or affiliated with a terrorist organization, although they said he had communicated last year with someone in Syria with terrorist ties.

Yasin said he never meant to deceive anyone on his visa application, saying he only wanted any mail from the government to go to his uncle's house so someone with a better grasp of English could read it over.

He went on a hunger strike in jail from April 18 until May 11, eating only once in that period, to protest his continued detention.

"What they do is not fair," he said. "Either release me or deport me, one of them."