The war between Hamas and Israel has been a horror on many levels, both great and small, expected and unexpected. One surprising footnote to the conflict has been the suspension of a USCIS officer, Nejwa Ali, for supposedly supporting Hamas. Here, we'll talk about what led to Ms. Ali's suspension. We'll also discuss the practical and political ramifications of her case.

Nejwa Ali started her career as an Asylum Officer at the Department of Homeland Security in July 2019. She worked at my local office in Virginia, though I do not recall ever having had a case with her. In January 2023, Ms. Ali became an Adjudication Officer at USCIS, where she remained until recently, when she was put on administrative leave.

Before she started at DHS, Ms. Ali worked as a Public Affairs Officer for the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington, DC (the office was ordered closed by the Trump Administration). She also worked for Amideast, which provides education and training to people in the Middle East and North Africa, and for UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees.

A number of Ms. Ali's social media posts--both from before and since the current war--have become public (though her Twitter and Instagram accounts seem to have now been shut down). Some recent examples of her online statements include: "**** APARTHEID Israel and any Israeli that supports that bullshit," "Free PALESTINE" with a photo of a gun-totting and masked terrorist paragliding into Jerusalem, a video entitled "**** Israel and any Jew that supports Israel," and "Israeli, American privilege is disgusting. When Israelis acknowledge the government and military are solely responsible for the attack. Period."

A few of Ms. Ali's older online statements have also resurfaced. One post from 2015 calls upon Barack Obama to boycott Israel. Another post from 2016 complains that Republicans obsess about Israel, but that the average voter knows nothing about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. What's interesting about these older posts is that someone took screen shots of them in 2019, and these screenshots only became public last month. This makes me wonder--Who took these screen shots in 2019 and why? I've heard from my contacts in USCIS that Ms. Ali was outspoken about her views, and so perhaps someone who knew her saved these screen shots to use against her.

There are a few issues here worth discussing. The first is whether DHS should have hired Ms. Ali in the first place given her prior employment with the PLO. The Daily Wire, which originally broke this story, contacted Ms. Ali to ask whether she revealed her PLO job to DHS before she was hired. She responded, "That's none of your f***ing business" and that her views on Israel do "not affect the ability to do my job at all" (I do not fully trust the Daily Wire as a news source, and so these quotes should be taken with a grain of salt. Also, apparently, the DW doesn't like curse words). Regardless of Ms. Ali's response, it seems unlikely that DHS did not know about her prior employment with the PLO. I have had a number of staff members get jobs at DHS, and their prior employment is always verified.

Assuming DHS knew about Ms. Ali's job with the PLO, should that have been disqualifying? I really can't say. The organization was permitted to operate in the U.S. and so I see no reason why someone who worked there could not also work for DHS. On the other hand, the PLO has a checkered relationship with the United States, and so Ms. Ali's position there should have subjected her to additional vetting. Whether or not that happened, I do not know.

The next issue is whether Ms. Ali should be fired now, in the wake of her inflammatory posts. The ACLU provides some handy guidance about the free speech rights of federal employees. One situation where an employee can be disciplined is when her speech disrupts an efficient workplace. Where I think Ms. Ali crosses the line is her post featuring an armed terrorist paragliding into Jerusalem. This post would be bad enough if it was merely supporting armed resistance to Israeli occupation. But taken in the context of the mass slaughter of October 7, it is difficult to view the post as anything other than endorsing terrorism. Under these circumstances, I do not see how Ms. Ali will be able to remain at DHS.

A final issue is the political response from Republicans. Senator Josh Hawley (famous for raising his fist in support of January 6 rioters) calls Ms. Ali a "Pro-Hamas Spokeswoman." Apparently, this is a reference to her job with the PLO. One Congressman complains about the "inexplicable hiring decision by Joe Biden’s Department of Homeland Security," which "clearly shows that the Biden Administration cannot be trusted to keep our border secure and our country safe." Of course, Ms. Ali was hired during the Trump Administration and completed her one-year probation during the Trump Administration. This inconvenient (and obvious) fact goes unmentioned by DHS's Republican critics.

The onslaught by Republicans and right-leaning media has another effect: It puts Asylum Officers and USCIS Officers in danger. The effort to score political points at President Biden's expense does not occur in a vacuum, and accusing DHS of harboring Hamas supporters has caused concern among agency employees and hurts morale. Unfortunately, at a time when nuance and solidarity are needed, we have far too many politicians eager to gain attention regardless of the truth or who they put at risk.

In the end, I understand why Ms. Ali is angry. But I don't really understand why she decided to express herself online in the way that she did. It accomplished nothing towards resolving the conflict in Gaza, and only hurt her career and damaged her agency. Perhaps her's is a cautionary tale: We need to express our views constructively and effectively, and not indulge our basest anger.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: