The federal magistrate for the District of St. Thomas-St. John ordered the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service Monday to produce in court a Syrian youth who showed up at a St. Thomas police station a few weeks ago seeking asylum.
The writs of habeas corpus issued by U.S. Magistrate Ruth Miller came in response to motions submitted late last week by the lawyer representing 18-year-old George Soufan. At the time he was detained by police and turned over to ICE, Soufan said he paid a smuggler more than $3,000 to carry him by boat from St. Martin to St. John. From St. John the defendant said, he boarded a ferry to St. Thomas, walked into a police station and asked for asylum.
In a statement given to ICE officials, Soufan said he was part of a Christian minority group in Syria undergoing harsh treatment. Part of that mistreatment was for young men to be conscripted into the Syrian army and sent to the front lines of that country’s ongoing civil war.
In 2017, Soufan and his father decided to avoid that option, fleeing their home country to Brazil, then moving on to St. Martin, where a relative lived.
Shortly after making an initial hearing in St. Thomas District Court, the defendant was taken out of the territory by ICE, to an immigration processing center in Miami.
But after filing a motion for habeas corpus ad prosequendum on April 5, federal public defender Gabriel Villegas had Soufan returned to St. Thomas in time for arraignment on April 18.
The particular demand calls for a defendant to appear in person for prosecution in the jurisdiction where the alleged crime occurred.
Soufan was indicted April 4 on a single count of illegal entry. At the Thursday arraignment, Miller set a calendar of pre-trial deadlines, leading up to a June 3 trial before District Court Judge Curtis Gomez.
The writ issued Monday, “ordered and directed that the field office director at Krome Service Processing Center … or his deputies, shall deliver George Soufan to the District of the Virgin Islands, Division of St. Thomas and St. John, for jury trial commencing June 3, at 9 a.m., Courtroom No. 1, in the above-captioned case.”
The second writ makes a similar demand for Soufan to appear at a May 27 omnibus hearing where pretrial motions will be reviewed and argued.
Miller is slated to preside over that hearing.