Saturday, September 22, 2007

Judge skeptical in Kambo case

SAN ANTONIO — Even though former African coup leader and Austin resident Sam Kambo remained jailed after a federal court hearing Wednesday, his wife, Hanaan, walked out of U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez's court with a small degree of satisfaction.

She was pleased that Rodriguez questioned why the government thinks Kambo, 39, needs to be jailed pending appeals in his immigration case, even though an immigration judge in June granted him permanent residency in the United States and found that Kambo did not participate in a 1992 mass murder in his native Sierra Leone.

And she was pleased that Rodriguez asked a government lawyer why, after Kambo had spent more than a decade in this country, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials even began an attempt to deport him last year.

Sam Kambo, pictured with his daughter Shaina, was granted permission to work in the U.S. but was arrested during an immigration interview.

"I heard the judge say, 'I'm confused,' " Hanaan Kambo said. "That's exactly what everyone's saying."

Rodriguez didn't rule on Kambo's lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of his continued detention, but during the hearing Wednesday he asked pointed questions of Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Anderson, who is representing the government in the case.

"I am confused by what the government is doing here. You have an order in June '07 that is averse to you. It appears your appeal is going to be tough. ... You have an individual who has been in this country ... at least since 1994," Rodriguez said.

"It seems like the government is confused. ... What is the problem with allowing him to go on bond? ... I am kind of confused."

Anderson told the judge that the decision to fight Kambo's release while the appeals are pending is "a decision made by the immigration authorities who have some expertise in that area. It is allowed by law."

Rodriguez asked Anderson why immigration authorities want Kambo in jail even though the Department of Labor has granted him permission to work. He is an analyst at the Lower Colorado River Authority in Austin.

"It's two different processes," Anderson replied.

Rodriguez asked why the government is giving Kambo's case such extraordinary attention after he has been in the country legally for more than a decade after leaving Africa.

Anderson answered that the political group Kambo was once affiliated with in Africa might have returned to power in recent days.

"How is that going to assist the government in finding credible evidence that this individual was involved in a 1992 killing?" Rodriguez asked without giving Anderson a chance to respond. "I lack understanding of what our government is doing."

Anderson declined to comment while leaving court. He is representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement and a field director, Marc Moore, as well as the Department of Homeland Security and its secretary, Michael Chertoff.

Rodriguez did not rule on Kambo's motion for a preliminary injunction in the case, saying that he wanted the government to file briefs supporting the argument that he does not have jurisdiction in the case. Anderson said the case belongs in immigration courts. Rodriguez did not indicate when he would rule on the injunction.

Kambo's lawyer, Simon Azar-Farr, argued that Kambo should be released because he has been held an unreasonable amount of time in detention while his fate is decided in immigration courts. There, government lawyers have appealed the immigration judge's decision to grant Kambo permanent residency. They also continue to appeal an earlier order by an immigration judge that Kambo be released on bond. Because of that appeal, Kambo must remain in jail pending the review.

Kambo was one of eight soldiers who led a bloodless coup in Sierra Leone in April 1992 and later served as energy minister and in other posts with the National Provisional Ruling Council government. He came to the United States in 1994 to study at the University of Texas on a diplomatic visa and after graduating, received a series of work visas, most recently to work at the LCRA.

Kambo applied for permanent residency in 2001 and in October was summoned to an interview at immigration offices in San Antonio. He was arrested there and has been locked up at a private detention facility in San Antonio ever since.

Judge skeptical in Kambo case