The 18-year-old Syrian refugee who surrendered himself at a St. Thomas police station in March returned Monday to the island, where he is expected to face trial on charges of illegal entry into the United States.
Defendant George Soufan was allowed by a federal court to choose whether to be prosecuted in the jurisdiction where he was arrested.
Between the time he made his way into the territory with help from a trafficker and his Monday pre-trial appearance, Soufan was seized by agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement service and taken to an immigration detention center in Florida. By that time he had made an initial appearance in St. Thomas District Court and had been released on bond by U.S. Magistrate Ruth Miller.
In the court filing that described the circumstances of his arrival on St. John, the defendant told authorities he came by boat from neighboring St. Martin after fleeing Syria with his father two years earlier. After Soufan’s removal from the territory in mid-April, Federal Public Defender Gabriel Villegas filed a series of habeas corpus writs in order to have Soufan prosecuted on St. Thomas.
The effort showed some initial success when the defendant was flown back to the territory to answer a single-count indictment on illegal entry filed April 4.
By April 23 an order was filed in District Court, citing United States Code, Title 18, Chapter 3401 that said: “The court hereby designates Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller to exercise jurisdiction in this matter to the extent that Defendant George Soufan consents to such jurisdiction on the record.”
By Monday, Soufan’s consent became apparent. He and his lawyer complied with a court order compelling him to appear at a pretrial hearing. From there, he prepares for the start of a June 3 trial before District Court Judge Curtis Gomez.