A Man Without A Country, Literally -- Ex-U.S. Citizen Has Become A Drifter Among Nations

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Joel Slater arrived in San Jose a couple of weeks ago with little more than his convictions and his bedroll.

Australia and Canada deported him. The tiny French island territory of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon wouldn't take him. Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark won't help him. So, for now at least, Slater seeks refuge in San Jose and takes his meals at CityTeam Ministries.

He is 32 and homeless, and he looks gaunt in well-worn Nikes, weathered jeans and a faded flannel shirt with a pack of Marlboros in the pocket. But his is a story you won't hear often on the streets.

Five years ago, Slater walked into the U.S. Consulate General's office in Perth, Australia, and renounced his U.S. citizenship in protest of this country's foreign policy. Because he didn't seek citizenship in another country first, Slater is a stateless person.

He has ensnared himself in this no man's land: The United States won't grant him a passport without citizenship, so he can't travel legally to the countries that might accept him through a United Nations convention regarding stateless people.

"It's a whacked out situation," he says.

When Australia deported Slater after his U.S. passport was revoked, the United States allowed him to return on a "humanitarian parole" - a parole Slater doesn't want.

He refuses to apply for authorization to work legally, because he says working illegally might be a way to force the court system to address his situation. He is reduced to surviving through his own guile, occasional odd jobs and the generosity of strangers.

"He's a man without a country," Immigration and Naturalization spokesman Duke Austin said. "It is very unusual. . . . He had what 29 million people in the world are wishing they had."

It has been an incredible journey these last five years, taking Slater from Perth to the United States to Mexico and back and forth between this country and Canada several times, with a brief sojourn on a small French island off Newfoundland. Slater also has sought refuge unsuccessfully with the embassies of several countries.

"I don't regret it at all," he says. "What I've done is similar to the Boston Tea Party. Hopefully, my voice will speak for a lot of people."

He is in San Jose, living off the $55 and change (before deductions, he points out) he earned illegally for a day's work recently. There's really nowhere for him to go home to. He grew up in Waterloo, Iowa, and remains in contact with a sister who lives in Waterloo.

He renounced his citizenship in protest of U.S. intervention in places such as Central America, and Slater believes the United States could provide him with travel documents to leave. Austin said the U.S. issues passports only to U.S. citizens.

Slater has failed in repeated efforts to obtain refugee status in Canada. He actually hitchhiked across Canada, taking a ferry to Saint-Pierre in April because France is a signatory to the U.N. convention regarding stateless people.

"The colonial governor didn't have room for him at the inn," his Canadian lawyer, Gary Botting, says. "He was having difficulty coping with a mini-riot. Several fishermen went on a rampage."

Botting says Slater's one thin hope to obtain residence legally elsewhere is to sue France in international court in The Hague, Netherlands.