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Venezuelan Muslim fights deportation

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  • ummyakoub
    Mother of 3 U.S. citizens fights Jan. 6 deportation 12/31/03 Donna J. Iacoboni and Robert L. Smith Plain Dealer Reporters Haiat Awad was the first in her
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2004
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      Mother of 3 U.S. citizens fights Jan. 6 deportation

      12/31/03

      Donna J. Iacoboni and Robert L. Smith
      Plain Dealer Reporters


      Haiat Awad was the first in her family to become an American citizen,
      when she was born here 11 years ago.

      A brother and sister followed.

      But now, their mother, a Venezuelan-born Muslim refugee, has two
      heart-wrenching options - leave her children here, parentless, to
      enjoy the privileges of being U.S. citizens or take them with her to
      Venezuela, where she has no relatives, no job and no home.

      Immigration officials have ordered Amina Silmi, 35, to leave the
      country by Jan. 6. Her visitor's visa has expired.

      U.S. immigration laws do not require officials to consider how a
      deportation will effect American-born children, a leading Cleveland
      immigration attorney said.

      "The laws have no provisions for families, despite all of the talk
      about family values," David Leopold said.

      Silmi's children have been without a father figure since Dec. 1, when
      her husband was deported for criminal activity. He was convicted in
      1995 of trafficking in food stamps. Immigration officials revoked his
      work permit, then sent him to Jordan.

      In denying Silmi's attempts to remain here, Victoria Christian,
      deputy chief counsel for the Cleveland office of the U.S. Citizenship
      and Immigration Services wrote: "The demonstrated lack of financial
      support of their children by placing them on welfare since birth plus
      failure to file federal income tax returns in all but three of the
      past 13 years demonstrates that this family does not contribute to
      our society but only seeks benefits."

      Silmi arrived on a visitor's visa and married a legal immigrant. When
      that marriage fell apart, soon after Haiat was born, Silmi lost the
      right to be here.

      Silmi and the children are living on food stamps and Social Security
      benefits for her son, who is mildly autistic. Her Lakewood landlord
      has been lenient about the rent, she says.

      "I love America. I'd give my blood for U.S.A.," she said
      yesterday. "I got my high school GED two months ago. I want to be
      somebody in life."

      Attorney Svetlana Schreiber took Silmi's case two years ago and now
      represents her for free.

      Schreiber had hoped the government would consider Silmi's
      circumstances: three young children - Haiat, Fida, 6, and Belal, 5 -
      no living relatives in Venezuela and a history of being the victim of
      domestic violence, she said.

      The government can do just that, under what is called "deferred
      action," a legal fudge factor, Leopold said.

      "When it would be extremely cruel to deport someone, the government
      can just let a file sit. Especially when there are other cases more
      important to spend the money on," he said.

      Some in Cleveland's Muslim community blame selective enforcement of
      immigration laws; a Muslim focus has swept up innocents during the
      war on terrorism, they say.

      Julia Shearson, director of the Cleveland office of the Council on
      American-Islamic Relations, contends that Silmi's scheduled
      deportation is an example of extreme and callous enforcement of
      federal immigration laws.

      The government's "unrelenting aim to deport Amina Silmi will strip
      three U.S. citizens, her children . . . of the right to grow up in
      the United States with their mother, to stay with their friends in
      school and to enjoy the benefits of being American-born citizens,"
      Shearson said. "We're facing a harsh, cold wall here."

      Immigration officials discovered Silmi's overstay in December 2000,
      when she and her second husband passed through U.S. Customs during a
      visit to Niagara Falls, she says.

      This month, Silmi received a letter telling her to report to the
      office of deportation in downtown Cleveland at 10 a.m. Jan. 6 with no
      more than 70 pounds of luggage for a flight to Venezuela.

      "In front of my children, I try to be strong," she said. "I can't
      sleep. Always afraid. Even my oldest daughter, she sleeps with me,
      too. She says, 'Mom, I don't want you to go away.' "

      Silmi has an appeal pending before the Board of Immigration Appeals,
      said Greg Gagne, spokesman for the Immigration and Customs
      Enforcement office in Virginia. That panel does not discuss pending
      cases.

      Unless immigration services changes its position, Schreiber said,
      Silmi could be placed in federal detention Jan. 6 and remain jailed
      until her travel documents are completed.

      Gagne said if Silmi is not considered a flight risk, she may remain
      free pending the latest appeal.

      "I pray a lot. My daughter prays a lot. We hope nothing happens [on
      Jan. 6]," she said, refusing to even think about the choice she would
      have to make.

      To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

      rsmith@..., 216-999-4024

      http://www.cleveland.com/news/plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/cuyahoga/107
      2866604164770.xml

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