To the many U.S. diplomats who have worked with him, 76-year-old Gen. Mohamed Abshir Musse is a courageous Muslim ally who was kept in solitary confinement for nine years by a Soviet-backed dictator and later helped save American lives during the vicious fighting in Somalia in the early 1990s.
But to the Bush administration, he is one of thousands of foreign visitors to the United States who hail from 25 countries suspected of being havens for terrorism, a man who faces deportation because officials refused to extend his visa.
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_____News from Somalia_____
Court Rules Against Detention of Cubans (The Washington Post, Jan 13, 2005)
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100 Are Reported Killed In Violence in Somalia (The Washington Post, Oct 31, 2004)
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The two sides are now facing off in one of the more poignant cases to emerge from the controversial special registration effort begun late last year by the Justice Department. The program requires adult male visitors from those countries, most of them Muslim, to register at government offices, where they are interviewed, fingerprinted and photographed. Immigration violators face detention and deportation.
The diplomats and some Peace Corps workers who endured harrowing times in Somalia with Abshir are demanding intervention by the State Department, which so far has taken no action. A bill has been introduced in Congress to make Abshir, who has been living in the United States while he seeks medical attention for his son, a permanent resident. But it appears to be languishing.
"People should go to bat for their friends," said Washington lawyer Martin R. Ganzglass, who worked for Abshir as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s and remains a close friend. "The United States has made friends around the world for decades. It's not good policy to write them off."
Abshir was the first commander of the Somali National Police, a pro-American organization that was seen as a counterforce to the Soviet-trained Somali army in the 1960s, when Somalia became a democratic republic. A leader in the northeast part of the country, he headed armed forces against Islamic fundamentalists in factional fighting there more than a decade ago and worked with U.S. officials in setting up nonpolitical police forces in his region and in Mogadishu in 1992 and 1993.
According to one of those officials, he told the Americans there to watch their backs when they came to his area of the country. And in Mogadishu, officials add, the police force he helped to establish relieved Americans of patrolling "the dark alleys" where they might have been killed.
Abshir "has correctly been credited with helping to avoid the loss of American service members' lives," six former U.S. ambassadors and special envoys wrote to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell last December. "We know [him] as a good friend of our country and a decided enemy of extremism."
Abshir came to the United States two years ago to seek help for his son, now 29, who has multiple sclerosis. Abshir, who lives in Eden Prairie, Minn., said his visa was extended several times, but it expired Sept. 15 despite his application for renewal. On Dec. 30, he appeared at a government office to register with the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System.
Late last month, he was informed that his Sept. 9, 2002, application for a visa extension had been denied because he failed to buy an airline ticket out of the country as the Immigration and Naturalization Service had demanded. "There is no appeal to this decision," the INS told him. Early this month, he received a follow-up notice directing him to report March 18 for removal proceedings before an immigration judge in Minneapolis, making him one of 4,825 men nationwide to face such action.
A spokesman for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, one of the agencies created when the Immigration and Naturalization Service was broken up and moved into the Department of Homeland Security on March 1, said, "We are aware of the [Abshir] case and we are looking into it." The spokesman, Bill Strassberger, said an immigration judge at Tuesday's hearing "could find grounds" for Abshir to stay in the United States.
Although a decision to deny a visa extension cannot be appealed, Strassberger added, the results of a removal hearing can be.
A modest man whose optimism appears to be unbounded, Abshir said he does not believe he will be deported. He has confidence, he said, in his "American friends."
Those friends, however, are not so enthusiastic. They have backed a private bill introduced by Rep. Thomas E. Petri (R-Wis.), who met Abshir in 1966, when Petri was a Peace Corps volunteer, but the bill, which would give permanent resident status to Abshir, his wife, his son and a daughter, appears to be languishing in a House subcommittee. The State Department has refused to endorse it on the grounds that it does not take positions on private legislation.