Joint Press Release: United Stateless and CLINIC Advance Legal Strategies to Protect Stateless People
SILVER SPRING, Maryland — People move, but sometimes borders do too. Countries disappear, new countries emerge. Tyrannical governments strip some people of their citizenship. Others deny babies access to citizenship at birth. People without a country that claims them are “stateless,” and with statelessness comes a host of constraints that make it nearly impossible for them to travel, prosper, and live free lives.
The U.S. legal system fails to provide a direct pathway for stateless people to secure permanent immigration status and citizenship. United Stateless and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. are teaming up to change that. In a new, UNHCR-funded project, United Stateless and CLINIC are assessing the scope of the problem, raising awareness, and educating U.S.-based lawyers about how to recognize statelessness and advocate for greater protections for stateless people.
"To address statelessness in the United States, we need to close the vast knowledge gap in the legal community and work together to raise awareness about statelessness," said Karina Ambartsoumian-Clough, founding member and executive director of United Stateless.
Over 200,000 people in the United States are stateless or at risk of becoming stateless, according to the Center for Migration Studies. Because U.S. law and policy has failed to protect stateless people, they are often trapped in one place, unable to travel or work legally. Without access to official identity documents, they are also cut off from the basic tools needed to function in society, like driver’s licenses, bank accounts, lines of credit and mortgages, etc.
“There is a lack of awareness, including among people in the United States who may not even know that they are stateless, because attorneys and the U.S. government do not screen for lack of nationality during immigration proceedings or other administrative processes. Through this partnership, CLINIC seeks to increase screening for statelessness,” said Vickie Neilson, Defending Vulnerable Populations Managing Attorney at CLINIC.
CLINIC and United Stateless are gathering information about the stateless population in the United States, developing legal strategies to obtain permanent solutions for stateless people, and working with legal representatives around the country to implement these strategies.
The partnership is both groundbreaking and long overdue. A stateless person from the former Soviet Union described their situation like this: “I question my very existence, my very essence of being human. We don’t want to live or die as ghosts.”
“No one should have to live without the protections of citizenship. This partnership places us one step closer to achieving that goal,” said Michelle Mendez, Defending Vulnerable Populations Program Director at CLINIC.
United Stateless is a nonprofit organization founded by stateless people to advocate for “a world in which everyone's human right to nationality is respected and upheld.”
Founded on principles of Catholic Social Teaching, CLINIC is the largest network of nonprofit immigration programs in the country. CLINIC staff provide legal and program management training and resources, as well as advocacy support at state, local and national levels.