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Jarno's Immigration Fate May Be Decided This Week
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
August 10, 2004

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA--Later this week, Malik Jarno should learn whether he can stay in the United States or will be deported to his war-ravaged native Guinea, where he would likely face persecution and possibly death.

The 19-year-old, who is seeking sanctuary in the U.S., has been held for much of the last 3 ½ years in Pennsylvania and Virginia prisons. His fate could be decided after a two-day immigration court trial beginning Thursday.

Federal officials have claimed that Jarno arrived in the country in January 2001 with a fake passport, a phony birth certificate, and false assertions that he would face persecution in his home country.

Jarno's supporters, which include attorneys that have provided millions of dollars worth of service on a pro bono basis, argue that he should be granted legal immigrant status. They also claim that Jarno has mental retardation.

According to Amnesty International, Jarno is an orphan whose mother died when he was 12. His father, a well-known opposition activist in the West African country, died while imprisoned by the Guinea government. Other family members are missing and presumed dead. His home and neighborhood have been destroyed.

Jarno escaped in 2000 to France with an aunt who quickly abandoned him. He stayed with a Moroccan friend for a time, but when the man decided to return to Morocco, he put Jarno on a plane bound for Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC. The friend told him he would be safe in America because "it is the land of freedom."

Officials with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service discovered right away that Jarno's passport was bogus. Officials used dental X-rays, which showed his wisdom teeth coming in, to determine that Jarno was an adult in his mid- to late twenties. Investigators located a birth certificate which showed he was born January 7, 1985, but the agency said it had no similar document in its reference files and rejected Jarno's as a fake.

Jarno was jailed as a juvenile at five different adult facilities for all but four of his first 35 months in custody. He did not see an immigration judge during his first eight months in the U.S., as is his right by law. He did not even have an attorney until fellow inmates got help for him through an American Islamic group.

Jarno's lawyers have accused the INS, which has since been absorbed by the Department of Homeland Security, of engaging in pseudo science to justify its position on his age.

Federal officials and Jarno's advocates also disagree on his cognitive ability. On three separate occasions, psychologists measured Jarno's IQ. One psychologist, hired by his lawyers, determined that the French-speaking Jarno has an IQ of 47 and "the mental ability of an 8-year-old". Others measured it as between 60 and 70. Most experts consider an IQ of 70 or below to indicate mental retardation.

Government officials question the results of the IQ tests, blaming cultural and language differences on his low scores.

In an early hearing, however, a judge determined that Jarno was not believable because he had mental retardation.

"I can't remember another case like it," said Christopher Nugent, an attorney with Holland and Knight, one of several legal firms that have donated their time to help.

Jarno claims that while he was in prison he was assaulted by other inmates, pepper-sprayed, beaten by prison guards, and held in solitary confinement for one week.

His attorneys claim Jarno should not have been jailed, especially for that long. Instead, he should have been treated as an abandoned foreign-born child and given an immigration green card so he could stay.

Jarno's case has attracted widespread support from human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, the American Bar Association, and the NAACP. Seventy members of Congress have asked Homeland Security to grant asylum. U.S. Representative Chris Van Hollen, from Maryland, has introduced legislation that would grant Jarno legal immigration status regardless of the outcome of this week's trial.

Last December, Asa Hutchinson, Undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security, had Jarno released to the custody of the International Friendship House, a refugee shelter in York, Pennsylvania.

Immigration officials would not comment on the specifics of the case. One spokesperson with the Department of Customs and Immigration Services did acknowledge that most cases move through the system much more quickly.

"It is beyond the bounds of decency that the US would consider deporting this young man," said Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, in a statement. "Not only does Malik Jarno clearly deserve asylum, it adds insult to injury that he has languished in prison with adults for the better part of three years, despite his mental incapacity and youth."

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