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By Aenet Rowa

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Yokwe Online, August 12) – Marsallese Jimmy Mote thought things were looking up and that his seven-month ordeal over an immigration mistake in Minnesota was over.

On June 28, he had left the Carver County Jail in Chaska, Minnesota, after six months imprisonment over an immigration foul-up. And authorities called last Thursday, wanting to remove the electronic sensor strapped to Mote’s ankle.

But Mote, a Marshall Islands citizen, still must appear before an immigration judge Friday to determine his fate. Only his attorney and Mote’s wife will be allowed with him in the courtroom.

His wife, Jeanette, and their three children are arriving Thursday night, August 12. It will be the first time Mote has seen his children since the United States Border Patrol swept him away from North Dakota.

"I missed all their birthdays, Christmas, and my 12-year wedding anniversary on April 15 while sitting in jail," said Mote, who still has no idea how many more special days he might miss.

Until last month, Mote was alone in his ordeal, without any money or help from his home country. It is a foreign national’s legal right to seek consular help from his nation’s Embassy, and under reciprocal laws, it is the duty of the arresting State to make every effort to inform the local consulate, according to information on the U.S. State Department’s website.

In this case, Mote’s efforts since last December to make contact with his Embassy did not succeed.

U.S. agents had determined that his criminal convictions made him removable under the provisions of the United States immigration law, but these charges were later rescinded, and he was charged only with overstaying.

"When he appeared in immigration court, the immigration judge set the minimum bond for immigration, which is $1,500. Mote remained in custody because he could not pay this bond," explained Jessica Reimers, First Secretary of the RMI Embassy.

In jail, he was assigned to the kitchen detail and made twenty-five cents an hour.

"I didn’t get the money; it was put in my commissary account. I bought razors, toothpaste, and things like that," Mote said.

After spending half a year in jail, he almost lost hope. Mote, a Christian, said it was his faith that sustained him.

"They had services for different churches every night of the week at the jail, and I went to all of them," said Mote.

In a strange turn of events, Mote was released from the jail confines, without notice. "Even my lawyer didn’t know I was out," he said. "She was surprised when I called her from the immigration office."

With no place to go, but required to stay in the area until his court date, he boarded with a Hmong family, relatives of a fellow inmate. Mote did not have any relations or friends in Minnesota, and his family was more than 10 hours away by car in North Dakota.

Mote says it was a gift from God that brought help at this point. When he first entered the Chaska jail, he had read an article in the local Star Tribune newspaper about an American who had adopted a Marshallese child. What got his attention was that the adopted child was from his home village of Laura on Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands. He had torn the article out and kept it.

"I looked-up the name of the lady, Mary Bjork, in the phone book and hoped she could help," said Mote.

It was Bjork that knew of more Marshall Islands contacts in the area, including the phone number of Bob Cress, a former Peace Corps volunteer to the Marshall Islands, who with his Marshallese wife had settled in the Minneapolis area.

On July 27, Cress and Mote's mother-in-law made phone calls to the RMI Embassy. Officials there unaware of the case, but immediately contacted Mote's attorney and U.S. agencies.

"Immigration proceedings are governed by United States law. However, the Embassy will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that Mr. Mote’s rights are protected under the provisions of the Compact and other relevant United States and international laws," said First Secretary Reimers in an update on August 6.

Right away, Cress was successful in getting permission for Mote to move to the Cress residence where he would be more comfortable with fellow Marshallese.

"He was in jail for over six months, and probably was beginning to think he'd be there forever," said Cress.

Cress also contacted Yokwe Online, the Marshallese website, and Jimmy Mote’s story was published on August 1. The story, read thousands of times in the first few days, has hit home with many Marshall Islanders residing in the United States, some of whom have had difficulties explaining their legal non-immigrant status to agencies in their local communities. A number of international media outlets and websites picked up the article, also.

Mote appreciates the support he has received since the story went public.

"Thanks to all the Marshallese who have called and emailed me," he said.

The Mote's need all the support they can get. The family now faces hundreds of dollars in court and immigration-related fees.

Mote added, "Please keep praying."

Yokwe Online: www.yokwe.net 

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