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Tuesday, July 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Feds Ordered to End Revoked Passport Mess

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Remanding proceedings to the State Department, a federal judge found that U.S. embassy officials arbitrarily revoked a diabetic U.S. citizen's passport based on a bogus confession of crimes.

Mosed Shaye Omar, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1978 six years after immigrating to the United States, claimed the U.S. government confiscated his passport and interrogated him in Yemen.

In July 2012, Omar was in Yemen to help his daughter obtain a passport. His own passport was confiscated when he tried to return to the United States for medical reasons.

Omar, a diabetic, claims that during his investigation he became weak after he was refused food and water and that officials told him he could not have his passport back until he signed a paper. He signed the document, he says, but could not read it because his vision was blurred.

The officials told Omar his passport was being held because he "had another name," and he later discovered the document he signed was a statement admitting he had "used a false name" and had "committed various other acts."

Omar remained stranded in Yemen until February 2014, when he was granted a temporary passport.

He sued the U.S. Department of State and Secretary of State John Kerry, alleging constitutional violations and seeking an order that his passport be returned.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley granted the injunction in October 2015, giving the government eight days to return Omar's passport.

And in a Feb. 16 order Corley granted Omar summary judgment, finding that the statement Omar signed "is not substantial evidence supporting the government's revocation decision."

In response to the government's contention that Omar signed the statement and that he should have known that he was not signing routine paperwork, "neither basis is reasonable," Corley said.

"Given plaintiff's undisputed declaration disavowing knowledge of the contents of his alleged confession, plaintiff's 'confession' is not evidence of anything let alone substantial evidence that plaintiff committed fraud by using a false name to obtain his passport," she said.

Corley also said the government bears the burden of proof in the case, and she found that Omar's constitutional rights were violated.

"A citizen's right to travel is a fundamental right and revocation of a passport, particularly when it occurs while the individual is outside the United States, significantly infringes upon that right," she said.

Corley added that Omar "compellingly posits that the government's interest in preventing the issuance of false passports is at least as great as the government's interest in preventing undocumented individuals who have no legal status in the United States from remaining here," and the Supreme Court has held that "clear and convincing burden" applies to those proceedings.

Corley ordered a new hearing of Omar's case before the State Department within 60 days, and her injunction giving Omar possession of his passport will remain in effect during those proceedings.

Wendy Feng, who represented Omar, said in an email that "the government made no real attempt to rebut Mr. Omar's testimony that officials called him to the U.S. Embassy in Yemen under false pretenses, interrogated him several times over the course of a full day and coerced him into signing a document that he did not understand."

The Justice Department's public affairs office did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment Thursday afternoon.

Feng is with Covington & Burling in San Francisco.

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