A federal magistrate judge ruled Wednesday that the State Department wrongfully seized the passport of a naturalized U.S. citizen in Sanaa, Yemen, leaving him stranded in that war-torn country for over a year with no way of returning to his home in California.
The case involves 64-year-old Mosed Shaye Omar, a former autoworker, who went to Yemen to help his youngest daughter apply for a U.S. passport. But he was accused of immigration fraud after, Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley says, he was coerced into signing a false confession. Corley called the government's revocation of Omar's passport "arbitrary and capricious."
Omar's story isn't atypical, according to his lawyers.
"This court's ruling calls into question the State Department's revocation of dozens of other Yemeni-Americans' passports based on similar coerced confessions," said Nasrina Bargzie, senior staff attorney at the San Francisco-based Asian Law Caucus. That's one of the groups that published this report in January documenting such cases.
Omar's saga began in January 2013 when he was invited to the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, believing that he could get his daughter's passport. Instead, upon his arrival, his passport was confiscated and he was interrogated. Omar, a diabetic, says he was deprived of food, water and medicine for a full day. He says he was told that the only way he could retrieve his passport and leave the embassy was by signing a statement. Omar says he couldn't read it because of his blurred vision.
The statement, written by embassy officials, said that Omar's true identity was "Yasin Mohamed Ali Alghazi" and that he had hidden this information when he became naturalized in 1978. He signed the statement in the name of Mosed Shaye Omar, the name the embassy officials claimed was false.
The State Department cited that statement as its only evidence that Omar had committed immigration fraud. Omar was eventually allowed to return home on a temporary passport.
The State Department can appeal the ruling.