An illegal immigrant from Ethiopia who lied about his role in brutal human rights abuses in order to obtain U.S. citizenship was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Alexandria, Virginia, on Friday.
Mergia Negussie Habteyes, 58, reportedly lied to U.S. immigration authorities while trying to obtain citizenship, saying he was not involved in any political persecution in Ethiopia. However, Negussie Habteyes never told officials that he served as a civilian interrogator in a high-level prison in Ethiopia in the late 1970s, according to an indictment obtained by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
While he was a civilian interrogator during the “Red Dawn” period in Ethiopia, Negussie Habteyes reportedly participated in persecution, using brutal violence against prisoners based on their political beliefs. Negussie Habteyes also allegedly gave false statements to the U.S. government while trying to obtain his citizenship.
“Negussie allegedly concealed his role in persecuting Ethiopian prisoners for their political opinions during that country’s so-called Red Terror period when he applied for, and ultimately obtained, U.S. citizenship,” Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said in a statement. “As this case demonstrates, the Justice Department will not allow the United States to become a safe haven for human rights violators, and we will continue to aggressively prosecute those who seek to exploit our immigration system through fraud and deceit.”
Homeland Security Investigations special agent in charge Patrick J. Lechleitner made it clear that the U.S. would not tolerate Negussie Habteyes’s behavior and that human rights violators will not be granted U.S. citizenship. (RELATED: Woman Arrested At Suspected Jihadi Compound Overstayed Visa, Has Been Illegally Present For 20 Years)
“The persecution of individuals for their political opinion and expression violates one of our most basic and foundational tenets as a nation,” Lechleitner said in a statement. “We will not allow human rights violators to use lies, fraud and deceit to exploit our laws.”
If convicted, Negussie Habteyes faces up to 10 years in federal prison and would likely be deported back to Ethiopia, immediately losing his U.S. citizenship.
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