UPDATE—Tuesday, Jun. 7 am: On May 26, after 559 days in detention, Hisham Shaban was released. His lawyers, confounded by ICE’s unexpected move, suspect that public pressure and their own insistence on continuing to fight for their client gave the government few options. “They couldn’t articulate a reason to keep him [detained],” Liban Yousuf, one of his attorneys, said. Shaban has not been granted legal status, is still in Removal Proceedings, and is still officially “stateless.” He was set free under Supervised Release, which means that ICE is officially still trying to remove him, and that he is left in a sort of indefinite legal limbo. Conditions for Supervised Release include having to check in periodically with ICE officials, having to notify them by letter whenever he leaves the state, and not being able to travel outside the country.
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Beginning in besieged Gaza, through Turkey, Greece, Venezuela, Central America, and Mexico, Hisham Shaban Ghalia traveled 10,000 miles—flying, riding buses, walking, and even swimming—to get to the United States. But despite coming to this country to seek asylum from violence and hardship in the Gaza Strip, Shaban has been languishing for the past 16 months in an immigration detention center in Florence, Arizona. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Shaban can’t stay in the country. But because of the peculiar legal and diplomatic tangle that Shaban finds himself in, he can’t be sent back home, either. That’s because, according to US law, Shaban has no home to be deported to.
Shaban’s asylum claim was denied last August, but ICE has neither deported him nor released him from custody. Shaban’s lawyer, Liban Yousuf, of the nonprofit Council on American-Islamic Relations, who began representing him pro bono only this January, filed a habeas corpus petition on February 20 (over six months after his asylum claim was denied) asking for Shaban to be granted supervised release, which, though it would provide no legal status, could allow him to work. While the petition is still being reviewed, ICE issued a “Decision to Continue Detention” on February 25, explaining that “ICE is currently working with the Government of Palestine” in order to remove him from US custody. But the fact that the United States does not recognize Palestine as a state has rendered this process difficult. In his case file, ICE documents refer to his home country only within parentheses, his citizenship listed as: “Stateless (Palestine).” Shaban told me, “I have a serious fear that I’ll spend my life here [in detention].” As of publication, he has spent 499 days behind bars.
“Everyone,” according to Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “has the right to a nationality.” Palestine, in the early decades of the last century, was seen as a home for stateless Jews. Now, it is the Palestinians who are rendered stateless, who are searching for a recognition of their nationality, their home. Neve Gordon, author of Israel’s Occupation, explained the peculiar predicament of statelessness: “When a person is stripped of any connection to a state and all that remains is his or her being a human being, that is the moment when they need the most human rights, and they have no rights.”