Immigration Catch-22 Unfolding in N.D. Slayings

James Walsh and Paul Walsh, Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul), February 3, 2011

If he had been from almost any other country, the former convict from the Twin Cities called a “person of interest” in the fatal shooting of four people in Minot, N.D., probably would have been deported before the killings occurred.

But the 26-year-old man is a native of Somalia. Because Somalia has no government, U.S. officials cannot deport people there. But officials also could not hold him after his release from federal custody in May 2010, following an assault conviction. Generally, officials are prohibited from detaining criminal aliens longer than six months after their release from custody.

So the man, who once lived in the Twin Cities and who recently had been splitting time between Minot and the oil fields of Williston, N.D., was on supervised release when the mother of his child and three others were killed last week.

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The killings

Police found 19-year-old Sabrina Zephier, the mother of the man’s 5-month-old daughter, dead Friday. Their baby was found alive in the apartment.

Killed an hour later were Zephier’s mother, Jolene Zephier, 38; Sabrina Zephier’s brother, Dillon Zephier, 13, and Jolene Zephier’s boyfriend, Jeremy Longie, 22. Police found their bodies in Jolene Zephier’s mobile home. All four were shot, Minot police Capt. Dan Strandberg said.

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Under usual circumstances involving an immigrant with a violent criminal record, the man–suspect or not–would probably not have been in the United States when the killings happened.

He has an extensive criminal record in Minnesota. His most serious offense occurred in January 2006, when he stabbed another male during an altercation in an apartment building entry near Cedar and Riverside Avenues in Minneapolis.

According to the charges, several others were involved in that assault, which left the victim with a collapsed lung, a concussion and stab wounds to his right eye, right shoulder and back.

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Somalis can still be under deportation orders, but those orders are not acted upon.

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