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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Tibetan Man in Asylum Catch-22

June 5, 2008

By Bill Johnson,
Rocky Mountain News (USA)
Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Maybe this is what we truly have been reduced to, either through our
collective, irrational post-911 fear of non-Americans or the sheer,
unseeing incompetence of our current government.

His name is Namgyal Tsering. He is 35, and for years now has worked
as a maintenance man at a downtown Denver hotel.

He arrived in this country a decade ago, fleeing his native Tibet
just ahead of China's political-dissent posse. He made it to Nepal, a
well-worn path multiple thousands had taken before him.

He knew immediately he would need travel documents, which, from
everything I have learned the past few days, are about as hard to
purchase on the street there as a hamburger here.

He landed in the U.S., his fake Nepali passport in hand, and beat a
path to Boulder County where, five years earlier, some 200 Tibetans
he knew had arrived under a U.S. government-sponsored asylum
resettlement program.

Namgyal Tsering was welcomed warmly, remembers Tenzin Dhongyal, 35,
now the president of the Tibetan Association of Colorado, whose own
mother had fled to India, and was resettled by the U.S. government to
Boulder County in 1993. He would arrive years later under a
government-authorized family reunification act.

Namgyal Tsering went to work immediately, immersing himself in the
local community, soon rising to a respected board position in the association.

In September 2002, he came forward and applied for asylum. He'd met a
woman. He wanted a normal life.

There would be a series of hearings. The system would work its course.

Late last year, the federal ruling came down: Namgyal Tsering, not a
single criminal or other mark on his record here, would have to be
deported. He had been in the country too long, the rules said, before
applying for asylum.

He would not, though, be deported back to either China or Tibet.

No, the judge ruled, he would be deported back to where his passport
said he came from: Nepal.

This was so even though Immigration and Customs Enforcement's big
problem all along was that Namgyal Tsering had been in the U.S. for
four years on a fake Nepali passport.

He was arrested and placed in a detention facility on March 19, the
same day ICE officials called him and he willingly went down on their
invitation to come talk about his case.

A final appeal hearing is scheduled for Thursday. No one expects a
reversal, which will make the man eligible for immediate deportation.

"They want to deport him because he is here on a fake Nepali
passport, but are sending him to a place where they know he is not a
citizen, where they know he will be immediately handed over to China,
imprisoned, tortured and put to death because he is a Tibetan who
fled Tibet," Tenzin Dhongyal said.

Namgyal Tsering was and still remains, he said, a man with limited
English proficiency, who could not possibly have known the
one-year-in-the-U.S. timeline rule related to seeking asylum.

It raises the question: When is a Tibetan with asylum rights in the
U.S. not a Tibetan with asylum rights? When, apparently, he is a
Tibetan holding for too long a phony Nepali passport.

"Everyone, including the U.S. government, knows it is how you get out
of Tibet," Tenzin Dhongyal said. "There is no Tibetan passport. You
get out through money and bribery.

"The U.S. clearly understands this and the need for asylum. It is why
I and some 250 other Tibetans are here in Boulder County now,
completely legally."

Nyima Yangkey, 33, of Lafayette, met Namgyal Tsering some four years
ago, after she, too, was settled in Boulder County by the U.S. government.

They are in love. Sixteen months ago, they had a son together,
Namkha. She is now beside herself.

"The judge," she pleaded in an interview on Tuesday, two days ahead
of the appeal hearing, "does not understand. He must think this is a
small deportation case, unmindful of what will happen if Namgyal is
sent back to Nepal.

"It is just not fair to send him back to Nepal on a fake Nepali
passport," she said. "My son is too young to lose his dad."

I should have expected the federal government's response to my
inquiries about all of this. I had to go over it with several
bureaucrats before I got one who would put his name behind his words.

"It was all argued before a federal judge," ICE spokesman Tim Counts
said of Namgyal Tsering's case, refusing to consider even for a
second the irony of deporting a man back to a country the U.S.
government knows he not a citizen of, and what his likely fate will be.

"Our job," he said of ICE, "is to carry out the lawful orders of a
federal judge. It is that simple."

I persisted. Certain imprisonment? Torture? Execution? Human rights?

Nothing registered.

At least this government today is not bothering much to even pretend
anymore. I suppose we should all in a way be grateful for at least that.

Being a beacon for everything that is civilized, the last bulwark of
hope for the world's unwashed, downtrodden, oppressed and repressed
might have been an overreach to begin with.

I just hope I'm not the guy down the line who has to explain the
timeline, the rules and the rest of it to little Namkha Tsering.

As much as it makes me sad and mad, it makes me shake.
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