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U.S. Citizen Stranded In Yemen Sues State Department


Next, the story of a man from California who says the U.S. government left him stranded in Yemen. He's a naturalized U.S. citizen of Yemeni descent who is suing the State Department. He says officials from the U.S. Embassy in Yemen seized his passport and left him stuck there for a year. The man alleges they falsely accused him of identity fraud and coerced him into signing a false confession. As it turns out, these allegations are not that uncommon, as NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: Sixty-four-year-old Mosed Shaye Omar, a former autoworker, says he traveled back to his native Yemen in July 2012 to help his youngest daughter get a U.S. passport. Six months later, he says he was invited to the U.S. Embassy in Sana'a with what he says was a promise of good news. Instead, upon his arrival, Omar says his passport was confiscated, and he was interrogated.


YAMAN SALAHI: He was not advised of his legal rights.

GONZALES: Yaman Salahi is Mosed Omar's attorney.

SALAHI: He was deprived of food, water and medicine. And he was held in that state until the end of the day, when he was so desperate to leave that he told the embassy official he would do anything as long as he could leave with his passport.

GONZALES: Omar, a diabetic, says he signed a statement under duress that he didn't understand because of his limited English and couldn't read due to his blurred vision. That statement was a confession written by the State Department, saying he had originally obtained his passport using a false name back in 1978 - something he now denies. Embassy officials kept his passport, and he was stuck in Yemen. Now he's filing a lawsuit to get his passport back, says his attorney Wendy Feng.


WENDY FENG: It was illegal for the State Department to revoke Mr. Omar's passport solely on the basis of a false and involuntary statement.

GONZALES: Omar's story isn't unusual. Attorneys in California and New York estimate that several dozen Yemeni-Americans have had their passports revoked after signing coerced confessions of identity fraud. None were ever accused of having ties to terrorists. Jan H. Brown, a prominent immigration attorney in New York, says he has four such Yemeni-American clients. All of them are naturalized citizens who have lived in the United States for decades.

JAN H. BROWN: These are all middle-aged men, at this point, with families. And they're concerned about supporting their families and getting them out of Yemen and to the United States.

GONZALES: Brown says the government violated due process rights when officials questioned the men and seized their passports without a hearing. Brown says he thinks U.S. officials are rattled by the unrest in Yemen, a place where identity fraud to get travel documents is reportedly rampant.

BROWN: As we all know, a country that's so unstable that it's recently exploded - or imploded, as it were. And so there's been a culture of the past, at least, six years or so of hostility and suspicion towards immigrants from Yemen to the United States.

GONZALES: But as Brown and other attorneys argue, the men who were stranded in Yemen are all U.S. citizens. As for Mosed Omar, he waited in Yemen for almost a year before U.S. Embassy officials finally told him that he could appeal their decision. Two months later, officials gave him a one-way, one-time-only passport to return home to San Francisco. His appeal to regain his passport was unsuccessful. The State Department rejected numerous documents Omar offered proving that he is an - and always has been - Mosed Shaye Omar. Nevertheless, he still hopes to get his passport back so that he can help his daughter in Yemen.


MOSED SHAYE OMAR: Now I cannot travel to see my young daughter. I want to help her. I want to help her to get out of the war.

GONZALES: The State Department declined to say how many passports it has seized, insisting that it has the authority to revoke a U.S. passport in cases involving a false identity. As for Omar's lawsuit, a State Department spokesman would only say, as a matter of policy, we do not comment on pending litigation. Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.