Federal prosecutors have dropped charges against the owner of Bissap Baobab that would have automatically stripped him of his U.S. citizenship and some personal assets.
In what appears to be part of a plea deal, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of California filed a “superseding information” Tuesday containing only one charge of “false claim or statement involving an immigration document” against Marco Senghor, the restaurant and dance club’s owner.
“The other claims are now gone,” confirmed Abraham Simmons, a spokesman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Those “other claims” were two serious charges of illegally obtaining his American citizenship that included “procurement of citizenship contrary to law” and “procurement of citizenship for a person not entitled to citizenship.” The former charge would have denaturalized Senghor upon conviction, according to experts.
In addition, the original indictment, filed last year on July 26, called for the forfeiture of assets used or obtained in connection to the alleged offenses.
“For now, the bottom line is: He’s no longer being charged for illegally obtaining citizenship criminally,” said Eric Cohen, the executive director of Immigration Legal Resource Center, who reviewed the new filing at Mission Local’s behest.
But Senghor is not out of the woods.
The one count under which he is now being charged is a felony with a maximum 10-year sentence. Moreover, the federal prosecutors, if they saw fit, could initiate a civil proceeding to revoke his citizenship.
“In order for him to be denaturalized now, it would be a civil process,” Cohen affirmed, “and then he would go back to the status he was before he applied for naturalization.”
Senghor is the son of a Senegalese father and a French mother. He emigrated to the United States in 1989 after completing his military service in France. On the morning of August 1 of last year, he was publicly arrested while walking down Mission Street. He pleaded not guilty to the charges, and was released on bail.
Last month, Senghor announced the forthcoming closure of his iconic restaurant and dance hall. He’s in the process of selling the building and liquor license.
The federal charges appear to be in connection to Senghor’s obtaining his green card through a marriage that lasted between 2000 and 2003.
“If I have to (leave), then I have to be ready,” Senghor told Mission Local last month.
Last Thursday, during a hearing in which Senghor was expected to change his not-guilty plea, one of Senghor’s defense attorneys, Jenny Yelin, told Judge William H. Orrick III: “We have reached a deal with the government.”
The judge accepted Yelin’s request to reschedule Senghor’s change-of-plea hearing and arraignment to sometime this week, although the date was not specified and no hearing has been formally entered on the judge’s calendar.
Regardless, the superseding document with the revised charges was filed on Tuesday.
“If his lawyers negotiated this, it’s a pretty good deal,” said Matthew Hoppock, an immigration attorney who has handled several recent denaturalization cases.
Hoppock, who is based in Kansas, said he read articles about Senghor’s original indictment, and found the charges to be extremely aggressive. “They were charging him criminally,” he said. “They were seeking asset forfeiture, which is what they do against mobsters.”
“I’ve honestly never seen that in any criminal [immigration] case before,” he added.
Far more denaturalization cases are tried civilly, he said. Like Cohen, Hoppock said that a future civil denaturalization proceeding vs. Senghor is not out of the cards. “It probably will trigger an immigration proceeding,” he said of the current filing.
It’s unclear whether Senghor’s case is a specific result of the Trump Administration’s efforts to ramp up the denaturalization of U.S. citizens — but such cases are certainly on the rise.
“There’s no doubt that Trump Administration is accelerating the prosecution of civil and criminal denaturalization cases,” Cohen noted. The stats bear this out: Since President Donald Trump assumed office, the number of denaturalization cases filed by federal prosecutors and the Office of Immigration Litigation has doubled.
Niloufar Khonsari, the co-executive director of Pangea Legal Services, which represents immigrants facing deportation, said that denaturalization cases are skewed heavily against immigrants from “Middle Eastern, African, and Muslim countries.” This includes immigrants “who make tremendously positive contributions to our communities.”
Senghor declined to comment, and his attorneys did not immediately respond to our inquiries.