Immigration agents tried unsuccessfully to put a Palestinian detained in limbo in the United States on a cargo ship without a passport, according to lawyers for the man and a shipping company.
Salim Yassir, 28, was caught in 2000 trying to enter the United States aboard a ship from England. Since then, he has been imprisoned while officials try to deport him to a country willing to accept him.
Israel has refused to accept Yassir, who is originally from the Gaza Strip, because he has no original Israeli or Palestinian travel documents. Libya, where Yassir lived as a teenager, officially expelled all Palestinian refugees in 1995.
Earlier this month, a federal appeals court ordered the judge in Yassir's case to consider releasing him, saying his deportation "does not appear reasonably foreseeable."
Immigration officials instead tried to put Yassir on a ship to England without a passport, said his lawyer and a lawyer for the shipping company Wallenius Lines, which owned the ship on which Yassir arrived in the United States.
"Instead of releasing him, they try to take him in the middle of the night and put him on a ship," Yassir's lawyer, Joshua Bardavid, told the Star-Ledger of Newark.
Wallenius's lawyers learned about the plan Thursday and refused to allow him on the ship, which was to depart the Port of Baltimore on Friday.
"It would have been a difficult situation, to put it mildly," said Frank Turner, a lawyer for Wallenius.
Immigration officials declined to comment to the newspaper, and a spokesman for the federal detention center in Elizabeth, where Yassir is housed, did not immediately return a call Saturday.
In a telephone interview last month, Yassir said he was willing to be deported anywhere.
"I'm ready to go," he said. "I just need my freedom. If they want to deport me, I'm ready to go."