Syrian Refugee in ICE Custody Set for Arraignment on STT

The 18-year-old Syrian refugee who turned himself into police on St. Thomas last month, asking for asylum, is due back in the local District Court on Wednesday.

The attorney for defendant George Soufan said his client is in the custody of Immigration officials who moved him to Miami.

Soufan is scheduled to appear for arraignment on St. Thomas before U.S. Magistrate Ruth Miller. He is charged with a single count of illegal entry into the United States.

Since Soufan’s removal from the territory, federal public defender Gabriel Villegas has petitioned the court for his client’s return to the Virgin Islands. Villegas is also asking that federal authorities be cited for contempt of court.

Miller is being asked, through the public defender’s motion for habeas corpus, to return the defendant to St. Thomas so that he can be prosecuted in the jurisdiction where his alleged violation occurred.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Delia Smith, who is prosecuting the case – said Soufan’s seizure and removal was legal. In an opposing motion, Smith invokes a provision of the Immigration and Naturalization Act.

That section of the law says that once a removal proceeding has begun, Immigration officials are to retain custody of the defendant until the case reaches its final outcome.

“Contrary to Soufan’s claim, however, his detention is not in conflict with the court’s order of release pursuant to the (Bail Reform Act). Rather Soufan’s detention is authorized by Section 12311 of the INA, a separate but equal authority to the BRA.”

As he arrived in the territory on or around March 16, Soufan turned himself into police, who in turn, handed him over to the U.S. Department of Customs and Border Protection.

In an interview given to agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the defendant said he was a member of a Syrian Christian ethnic minority. Because of the poor treatment his community receives at home, Soufan said he and his father arranged passage from Syria to Brazil in 2017.

From there, he said, they moved to St. Martin and stayed for two years with a relative.

His indictment on illegal entry was filed in St. Thomas District Court April 4. One week later, the defendant was in the hands of the INS, on his way to the detention on the U.S. mainland.