No Place Like Home

Thousands of Somalis fled when their country committed suicide a decade ago. Now the local INS office has found a way to send them back.

According to Gilbertson, Hassan's case could further erode the INS's unchecked authority. "Since the draconian 1996 reforms," he says, "the government has taken the position that few decisions can be reviewed by the court. It's an attempt to eliminate constitutional rights by statute. The government simply can't do that."

If the INS appeals, Gilbertson expects Hassan to win. But he also predicts that the constitutional issues raised in Hassan's and similar cases will eventually lead to a Supreme Court challenge of the 1996 law--specifically INS insistence that its decisions can't be reviewed.

Meanwhile, however, Hassan will remain at Rush City. The INS can release noncriminal deportees if they pose no threat to public safety. But the agency has determined that Hassan would be a "flight risk" if released--though, as Gilbertson notes, he has no criminal record and has never consciously thwarted U.S. immigration law. "What they are doing is outrageous," the attorney says. "The INS can't argue with a straight face that he's a danger to the public. They're holding him simply to increase the pressure on him. I really can't begrudge the government's decision to appeal this case. But to keep him in custody while they're appealing it is a contemptible exercise of their discretion."

Hassan himself now considers that he is engaged in a war of attrition. "I try to be rational in here," he says, gesturing wanly at the sterile walls that could demarcate his life for years to come. "I've never been handcuffed before this. I'm a person of no means. Why do they spend taxpayer money to abuse someone like me?"

Even as he speaks, though, his mood shifts. It's not one of resignation or indignation, but of tempered and tested patience. Perhaps you cannot challenge the U.S. government when your only appeal is to compassion. Still, as Hassan says, he has no choice but to endure, nowhere to go now but forward.

"They have a surplus of Somalis here," he says, "so Somaliland is a human dumping ground. I am a number to them."

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