A Somali journalist gets to see the U.S. - including two months of a Calhoun County jail
Published: February 2, 2011
Not knowing what to do, Jimale went to see a relative in Milwaukee. He decided to try for asylum in Canada and took a bus to Detroit, where he crossed through the tunnel.
When Canada rejected him, he returned to Detroit and was detained at first at a federal holding facility and then at the Calhoun County jail, which contracts to hold people with immigration cases being adjudicated.
Because his visa, though valid for his presence in the United States, did not allow him to leave the country and return, he was jailed. Just crossing through the tunnel counted as leaving, even though he was not admitted to Canada.
"Why was I with the real criminals?" Jimale asks. "Why was I treated the same way as people who committed violent crimes?"
He connected with Koelsch, an assistant professor at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law who runs the immigration legal clinic.
"I don't know how he came up with it, but he thought that because he was sponsored by the U.S. government to come here, that if he applied for asylum, the U.S. government would reject him," Koelsch says. "One of the restrictions that he came on was that he leaves the United States when it's all over. He thought he'd be ungrateful by asking for asylum."
Koelsch verified Jimale's identity through a variety of sources. He gathered his writings, e-mailed editors here and in Africa to confirm his record, and matched information and photos on Jimale's Facebook page with what the young journalist had told his attorney.
"There was an overwhelming volume of evidence in his case, and he was highly credible," Koelsch says. "The evidence was not only about his identity but also that he is brave enough to stand up to al-Shabaab."
After two months of imprisonment and three hearings, a judge granted his asylum application, and he was released Jan. 21. One of his first calls was to one of his editors. "She told me to start writing my story," Jimale says.
He is living in Milwaukee with a relative and plans to enroll in journalism school, spending at least a few years in the United States before returning home, where he'd like to work to counter the terror groups' commitment of young people.
"The problem in my country is the youth," he says. "If they don't get the youth, they can't do anything."
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