Somali friend of U.S. has INS troubles

Associated Press

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- He's a retired Somali general whose pro-democracy efforts cost him 12 years in prison. One former U.S. ambassador calls him "the greatest living Somali."

But Mohamed Abshir Musse, who now lives in Eden Prairie, a Minneapolis suburb, has been turned down for permission to remain in the United States. And while he hasn't specifically been threatened with deportation so far, his legal status is in limbo.

A group of U.S. diplomats who consider Musse a loyal and valuable U.S. ally are working to get him permission to stay.

Abshir, 76, expressed no anger about his situation Wednesday.


"I expect nothing but good from my American friends," he said. He said he believes they are doing all they can for him, including a special bill in Congress that would enable him to remain here. If, in the end, he cannot legally remain, "I'll have to search for somewhere else," Abshir said.

Some of his friends were more emotional about what they consider the injustice of someone with his life history being subjected to thoughts of deportation.

"General Abshir has done more for the United States and more for stability in his own country than any other Somali," said retired diplomat Peter Bridges, who was U.S. ambassador to Somalia in the mid-1980s.

Bridges, two other former U.S. ambassadors to Somalia and three other former U.S. officials responsible for U.S. relations with that region signed a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell asking that the State Department support the special bill. Bridges said the bill is "languishing in subcommittee."

The letter said Abshir's assistance to U.S. military personnel during the ill-fated 1992-95 "Operation Restore Hope" had saved many American lives.

Abshir led the National Police when Somalia gained independence in 1960 and gained a reputation for professionalism and incorruptibility, according to his U.S. admirers. Democracy thrived briefly in the 1960s, but when the government tried to steal the elections of 1969, Abshir was the highest-ranking official who refused to go along.

Seen as a threat by a new dictator, Abshir spent 12 years in custody without being charged with a crime, he said. Upon his release, he joined a group agitating for a restoration of democracy and was imprisoned again briefly.

"People ought to stand up for their friends," said Martin Ganzglass, a Washington lawyer who first worked with Abshir in the 1960s when Abshir was Somalia's top policeman and Ganzglass was a Peace Corps worker assigned to give legal advice to the fledgling Somali republic.


"He spent a lot of years in prison, essentially for being pro-American when the Somali dictator was pro-Soviet. Then when he got out, he was busily helping the Americans during Operation Restore Hope, providing intelligence and security to our people. We owe the guy more than to leave him ... under the threat of deportation."

Abshir arrived in Minnesota, which has the largest Somali population in the United States, in 2001. He had temporary permission to stay and care for his 27-year-old son, who has multiple sclerosis. His status was subject to periodic renewal. The last time he sought renewal, the Immigration and Naturalization Service asked him to show a visa, a passport and a ticket out of the United States to prove that he planned to leave.

But Abshir hopes to stay and has no such ticket. He told the INS about the special immigration bill, but the INS denied his application to stay and told him no further appeal was possible.

Tim Counts, local spokesman for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the agency is "aware of the situation, and we are looking into it."

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