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  • Caught in the immigration net.

    Behind barred windows in downtown Seattle, Elyes Glaissia and Safouh Hamoui
    pray five times a day.

    When they first arrived at the federal immigration jail, they weren't sure
    where to bow. Guards pointed the way toward Mecca.

    "We try to look for the direction," says Glaissia. "You ask where is the
    north, where is the east."

    Glaissia, 28, and Hamoui, 50, belong to a group of people who face
    deportation, caught in an anti-terrorism dragnet targeting foreign-born
    residents who have violated federal immigration laws.

    They did not know each other until they met in the jail, but their lives
    converged in the roiling wake of Sept. 11, 2001. Their cases reflect the
    byzantine world of immigration policy and how it has changed over the past
    year.

    They are Middle Eastern, Muslim and local - from Tacoma and Lynnwood.
    Glaissia is charged with overstaying his tourist visa. Hamoui and his
    family are charged with ignoring a deportation order.

    Neither has a criminal record; immigration violations are civil offenses.
    Neither has been charged with being a terrorist, and the FBI says it has no
    interest in them.

    Glaissia was born in Tunisia but lived most recently in Tacoma, and he says
    he came to America to look for a better life. Hamoui is from Syria, but he
    and his family have lived at the same address in Lynnwood since 1992.

    Glaissia came to the jail alone. Hamoui was detained with his wife, Hanan
    Ismail, 43, and their daughter, Nadin Hamoui, 20. Two younger children of
    the Hamouis were not detained and are staying with relatives.

    They are fighting to stay in a country they say they love. They remain in
    jail because officials won't release them on bond while their cases are
    argued in federal courts. Though such releases are common in immigration
    proceedings, the government says no to them.

    "We're still looking at criminal aliens," said Garrison Courtney, spokesman
    for the Seattle office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
    "We're looking at people who broke the law."

    The crackdown on immigrants dates to Jan. 25, 2002, when U.S. Attorney
    General John Ashcroft announced the "Alien Absconder Apprehension
    Initiative," which directs the INS to seek out immigrants who have ignored
    deportation orders. Nationally, the order affects about 314,000 immigrants
    - 6,000 of them from the Middle East.

    Locally, Seattle INS officers have detained about 20 people on the basis of
    the order, and deported one. Overall, about 400 immigrants - most of them
    Hispanic - have been detained in Washington, scattered through the 200-bed
    Seattle jail and other facilities, where they wait for deportation.

    Charges against the detainees range from overstaying visas to working
    illegally without proper documentation. A majority of the detainees - but
    not Glaissia or the Hamouis - have local criminal violations such as drug
    offenses or theft.

    Many immigrants and their legal representatives say the government
    crackdown extends beyond the search for absconders, and hampers even the
    most routine processes, such as work visas, visitor extensions and travel
    permissions.

    The new INS attitude doesn't reflect new laws. Agency officials say they
    are taking a more stringent approach to existing regulations.

    "We are going to look at things and we're going to look at them twice
    because we have to," Courtney said. "There was a large failure before Sept.
    11 in some of the ways we did things, so we have to revisit that. It may
    slow things down initially, but it's for the betterment of the process."

    Immigration advocates question the results of the agency's new attitude.

    "It's really affecting a number of people," said Pramila Jayapal, director
    of the Hate-Free Zone, a Seattle-based organization advocating immigrant
    rights. "There is a definite slowdown in all of the paperwork. It doesn't
    matter what the issue is.

    "Families are kept in detention for extended periods of time because the
    work is just not happening. You can actually be deported for a minor
    violation. That was never the issue before, and it causes huge problems and
    concerns in the community."

    Immigration lawyers throughout Puget Sound tell similar stories. They say
    visas and other documents are harder to obtain, and that foreign clients,
    especially those with Middle Eastern connections, face a much harder road.

    Tacoma attorney Stephen Martin mentions a client employed by a Korean
    engineering firm that worked for a Kuwait-based company. Federal officials
    denied the client's visa application. They were suspicious because he had
    tried to transfer money from a bank account in Kuwait.

    "This never would have happened a year ago," Martin said. "They're just
    getting pickier and pickier and pickier. Nobody wants to be the one who
    approved the student visa from the terrorist. Everybody's afraid of heads
    rolling if they make a mistake."

    Immigration officials say claims of excessive scrutiny are overblown.

    "We're enforcing the law - that's our job to do that," said Bob Okin,
    deputy district director of Seattle's INS office. "We are trying to be
    consistent in the way we apply the law. I'm not sure much has changed."

    Glaissia marked a year in the detention facility Sept. 16. Federal
    immigration officers detained him because a former housemate he had just
    evicted said he made terrorist threats.

    He denies the claim and the housemate later disavowed her accusation in an
    affidavit and in court testimony.

    Hamoui arrived at the jail Feb. 22, along with his wife and daughter.
    Officials say the family ignored a deportation order. The Hamouis say they
    followed the advice of their former attorney, who told them the order was
    under appeal.

    "These are not people who absconded," said Bernice Funk, the Hamouis'
    current attorney. "These are people who got bad legal advice."

    Collectively, Glaissia and the Hamouis have spent three years in the
    immigration jail. Drunken drivers, wife beaters and car thieves from Puget
    Sound have done less time. They acknowledge their immigration violations,
    but they argue that indefinite imprisonment is an unreasonable price to pay.

    "I didn't even have a traffic ticket," Glaissia said.

    The word of a 'freeloader'

    The U.S. government says Glaissia has never been a terrorist. He remains in
    jail because officials argue he could become one.

    Court documents say he arrived in America on a tourist visa in 1998. He
    renewed it once. When it expired a second time, he failed to renew it again.

    By then, he was working as a convenience store clerk in South Tacoma,
    living with two other men in a one-bedroom apartment on Orchard Street. He
    attended regular services at the Islamic Center of Tacoma and was engaged
    to be married.

    "Just a peaceful guy," said Saif Al Khawlani, a center member who testified
    on Glaissia's behalf. "Not trying to be violent to anybody. Muslim or
    non-Muslim."

    Glaissia took a religious trip to California in August 2001 with other
    members of the Tacoma mosque. While he was gone, his fiancé, Merry
    Peterson, met a 51-year-old woman named Ann Andersen, a Norwegian who said
    she was a Muslim convert. She said she and her 31-year-old son were
    homeless, and she came to the Islamic center seeking help.

    Peterson suggested that Andersen could stay at Glaissia's apartment for a
    time. Glaissia's roommates agreed. They gave Andersen the bedroom, and
    slept on the living room floor.

    Six weeks passed, during which Andersen did not find work or pay rent.

    In court testimony, Andersen's associates described her as a freeloader who
    moved from house to house without paying rent and concocted stories about
    her benefactors that turned out to be untrue.

    "She's just a liar," said Vicky Dobrin, Glaissia's attorney. "She makes
    stuff up."

    Andersen lived with a Tumwater couple named Grieben in the mid-1990s, and
    never paid rent. Twice, they asked her to leave, and paid her way to Norway.

    In court, Donald Grieben testified that Andersen had a "wild imagination,"
    claimed to have various ailments and injuries, and said there were prowlers
    in the neighborhood.

    After leaving the Grieben home for Norway, Andersen returned to Washington
    in summer 2001, and contacted the Mormon church to ask for money. She
    persuaded a Parkland woman named Linda Ellsworth to take her in.

    She lived with Ellsworth for about a month, and paid no rent. Eventually,
    Ellsworth asked Andersen to leave. Andersen contacted the Mormon church
    again, and told them "she needed a place to stay because Ellsworth was a
    Satan-worshipper," documents state.

    By September 2001, Glaissia and his roommates were making arrangements to
    move. Their lease on the Orchard Street apartment would expire at the end
    of the month. Andersen was told she would have to leave.

    She took no action for a week - the same week terrorists attacked the World
    Trade Center and the Pentagon. On Sept. 14, Andersen again was asked to
    leave the apartment.

    That night, she and her son were waiting at a bus stop when they spoke to a
    Tacoma police officer. Andersen told the officer she was renting a room
    from a Middle Eastern man who made "terrorist-type threats, " and said she
    heard him talking on the phone after the Sept. 11 attacks, saying, "This is
    Allah's will."

    She said Glaissia was an extremist who talked about "killing more
    Americans." She said he talked about the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and
    immigration buildings in Seattle, saying he wanted "to see them go."

    Local police notified the INS. Officers arrested Glaissia at his apartment
    Sept. 16, and charged him with violating the terms of his tourist visa.
    They questioned him about the threats. He strongly denied ever making them.
    His case was one of a handful initially closed to the public by order of
    the U.S. Justice Department.

    Glaissia's attorneys, Dobrin and Hillary Han of Seattle, sought his release
    on bond. A judge refused to grant it, citing the threats. Dobrin said the
    decision did not reflect standard practice, because Glaissia had no
    criminal record.

    The attorneys asked to cross-examine Andersen. INS officials said she could
    not be found. The attorneys hired a private investigator to find Andersen.
    In spring 2002, she was found - in Norway.

    Andersen signed an affidavit, saying she could not recall Glaissia ever
    making threats recounted to police. On April 25, 2002, she testified in
    immigration court, by telephone from Norway. Dobrin asked her about Glaissia.

    "Did he make any kind of terrorist threats?" Dobrin asked.

    "No," Andersen said.

    In his ruling on the case, federal Immigration Judge Kendall Warren said
    INS attorneys did not prove Glaissia was a terrorist. But he also ruled
    Glaissia had made the statements Andersen reported to police.

    He reasoned that Andersen said she didn't recall making the statements. She
    said police could have made them up. Asked whether she lied about Glaissia
    because she was angry about the eviction, Andersen said no.

    To Warren, that meant it was still possible Glaissia made the threats.

    "The attorney general might have reasonable grounds to believe that the
    respondent is likely to engage in terrorist activity," he ruled.

    Glaissia's attorneys are still trying to secure his release on bond. They
    have applied for asylum. They are appealing his case to higher courts. They
    have logged hundreds of hours on the case, but they are not charging him
    for their services.

    "We were really just astonished by what was happening," Dobrin said. "We
    couldn't believe that this was going to happen to somebody."

    Past INS practices no guide

    Hamoui owns a Mediterranean grocery store in Edmonds. He and his family
    have lived at the same rental house in Lynnwood for 10 years since arriving
    from Syria in 1992.

    Before INS officials detained them at gunpoint on Feb. 22, 2002, they had
    never been charged with a crime.

    "250,000 miles I am driving on American roads, not one traffic ticket,"
    Safouh Hamoui said. "I have never been in jail in my life."

    Since their arrival in the United States, the Hamouis have been seeking
    asylum, navigating the channels of the immigration court system.

    Hamoui's résumé may hurt his cause - he is a former pilot for the Syrian
    Air Force, a 20-year veteran.

    During an interview at the INS jail, he said he was piloting a commercial
    flight in January 1991 from Damascus, the Syrian capital, to Riyadh, Saudi
    Arabia, when he ran into bad weather. One of his passengers was the Syrian
    vice president.

    Struggling with wind shear and turbulence, Hamoui landed the plane safely.
    No one was hurt. But he said he was interrogated and forced to resign by
    government officials who suspected him of trying to harm the vice president.

    A year later, Hamoui moved his family out of the country. He followed a few
    months later. The family settled in Lynnwood, opened their store, and began
    seeking asylum.

    Neighbors and friends of the Hamouis, including two who work for the state
    Department of Transportation, have filed testimonials on their behalf,
    praising the family.

    "The Hamouis are known for their kindness and are well-respected in our
    community," said Mazen Wallaia, an Edmonds resident and DOT employee. "Mr.
    Safouh Hamoui is very helpful to others. He will go out of his way to help
    people."

    The Hamouis fear imprisonment and torture if they return to Syria. A March
    4 report from the U.S. State Department on human rights practices in Syria
    cites "credible evidence that security forces continued to use torture" on
    prisoners.

    "This is not like going to Japan or England or Mexico," Hamoui said. "This
    is like going to death."

    So far, INS and the courts have rejected the Hamouis' claim - they argue
    the family would not be tortured, and they say the family filed its claim
    too late.

    Federal law allows immigrants to seek relief from deportation if they face
    torture in their home country, but the Hamouis filed their relief claim
    after a federal deadline passed.

    The Hamouis say they missed the deadline and lost sympathy with the courts
    because three previous attorneys mishandled their case.

    Their lawyer, Funk, has filed complaints with the Washington State Bar
    Association against the Hamouis' former lawyers, contending they filed
    documents that were incomplete or late, and gave the family bad advice.

    "All three of these guys dropped the ball," she said.

    Two of the attorneys, Randall Hall and Dennis Olsen, dispute Funk's claim
    and say they acted in the Hamouis' best interests. The third, Antonio
    Salazar, did not return a phone call from The News Tribune.

    Court documents in the case include an FBI memo saying the agency has no
    interest in the Hamouis. On Sept. 12, 2001, six months before he and his
    family were detained, Safouh Hamoui donated $250 to victims of the Sept. 11
    attacks.

    Okin of Seattle's INS office said the family probably would not have been
    jailed had Ashcroft not announced the absconder initiative.

    "That's the tie-in to 9/11," Okin said.

    Though the Hamouis still were arguing their case in court, they faced a
    final deportation order - a "bag and baggage letter" demanding their
    appearance at the detention center. Taking the advice of their attorney at
    the time, they ignored it.

    According to Okin, past INS practice meant officials would give such cases
    low priority unless the immigrants involved were seen as a threat to the
    community.

    The absconder initiative changed that. Now there are no exceptions.

    "I don't think they're a threat to the community," Okin said, "but I do
    think they're fugitives from justice."

    Hanan Ismail hates the food in the detention center. She says it makes her
    ill. She suffers from Crohn's disease, an autoimmune disorder that tends to
    attack the digestive system. Her daughter, Nadin Hamoui, has high blood
    pressure and kidney stones. Since their arrival at the jail, both women
    have been taken to the hospital several times.

    "I didn't do anything," says Hanan Ismail. "How come for Sept. 11, I have
    to pay for it? Go get the right people. I'm not the one."

  • #2
    Behind barred windows in downtown Seattle, Elyes Glaissia and Safouh Hamoui
    pray five times a day.

    When they first arrived at the federal immigration jail, they weren't sure
    where to bow. Guards pointed the way toward Mecca.

    "We try to look for the direction," says Glaissia. "You ask where is the
    north, where is the east."

    Glaissia, 28, and Hamoui, 50, belong to a group of people who face
    deportation, caught in an anti-terrorism dragnet targeting foreign-born
    residents who have violated federal immigration laws.

    They did not know each other until they met in the jail, but their lives
    converged in the roiling wake of Sept. 11, 2001. Their cases reflect the
    byzantine world of immigration policy and how it has changed over the past
    year.

    They are Middle Eastern, Muslim and local - from Tacoma and Lynnwood.
    Glaissia is charged with overstaying his tourist visa. Hamoui and his
    family are charged with ignoring a deportation order.

    Neither has a criminal record; immigration violations are civil offenses.
    Neither has been charged with being a terrorist, and the FBI says it has no
    interest in them.

    Glaissia was born in Tunisia but lived most recently in Tacoma, and he says
    he came to America to look for a better life. Hamoui is from Syria, but he
    and his family have lived at the same address in Lynnwood since 1992.

    Glaissia came to the jail alone. Hamoui was detained with his wife, Hanan
    Ismail, 43, and their daughter, Nadin Hamoui, 20. Two younger children of
    the Hamouis were not detained and are staying with relatives.

    They are fighting to stay in a country they say they love. They remain in
    jail because officials won't release them on bond while their cases are
    argued in federal courts. Though such releases are common in immigration
    proceedings, the government says no to them.

    "We're still looking at criminal aliens," said Garrison Courtney, spokesman
    for the Seattle office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
    "We're looking at people who broke the law."

    The crackdown on immigrants dates to Jan. 25, 2002, when U.S. Attorney
    General John Ashcroft announced the "Alien Absconder Apprehension
    Initiative," which directs the INS to seek out immigrants who have ignored
    deportation orders. Nationally, the order affects about 314,000 immigrants
    - 6,000 of them from the Middle East.

    Locally, Seattle INS officers have detained about 20 people on the basis of
    the order, and deported one. Overall, about 400 immigrants - most of them
    Hispanic - have been detained in Washington, scattered through the 200-bed
    Seattle jail and other facilities, where they wait for deportation.

    Charges against the detainees range from overstaying visas to working
    illegally without proper documentation. A majority of the detainees - but
    not Glaissia or the Hamouis - have local criminal violations such as drug
    offenses or theft.

    Many immigrants and their legal representatives say the government
    crackdown extends beyond the search for absconders, and hampers even the
    most routine processes, such as work visas, visitor extensions and travel
    permissions.

    The new INS attitude doesn't reflect new laws. Agency officials say they
    are taking a more stringent approach to existing regulations.

    "We are going to look at things and we're going to look at them twice
    because we have to," Courtney said. "There was a large failure before Sept.
    11 in some of the ways we did things, so we have to revisit that. It may
    slow things down initially, but it's for the betterment of the process."

    Immigration advocates question the results of the agency's new attitude.

    "It's really affecting a number of people," said Pramila Jayapal, director
    of the Hate-Free Zone, a Seattle-based organization advocating immigrant
    rights. "There is a definite slowdown in all of the paperwork. It doesn't
    matter what the issue is.

    "Families are kept in detention for extended periods of time because the
    work is just not happening. You can actually be deported for a minor
    violation. That was never the issue before, and it causes huge problems and
    concerns in the community."

    Immigration lawyers throughout Puget Sound tell similar stories. They say
    visas and other documents are harder to obtain, and that foreign clients,
    especially those with Middle Eastern connections, face a much harder road.

    Tacoma attorney Stephen Martin mentions a client employed by a Korean
    engineering firm that worked for a Kuwait-based company. Federal officials
    denied the client's visa application. They were suspicious because he had
    tried to transfer money from a bank account in Kuwait.

    "This never would have happened a year ago," Martin said. "They're just
    getting pickier and pickier and pickier. Nobody wants to be the one who
    approved the student visa from the terrorist. Everybody's afraid of heads
    rolling if they make a mistake."

    Immigration officials say claims of excessive scrutiny are overblown.

    "We're enforcing the law - that's our job to do that," said Bob Okin,
    deputy district director of Seattle's INS office. "We are trying to be
    consistent in the way we apply the law. I'm not sure much has changed."

    Glaissia marked a year in the detention facility Sept. 16. Federal
    immigration officers detained him because a former housemate he had just
    evicted said he made terrorist threats.

    He denies the claim and the housemate later disavowed her accusation in an
    affidavit and in court testimony.

    Hamoui arrived at the jail Feb. 22, along with his wife and daughter.
    Officials say the family ignored a deportation order. The Hamouis say they
    followed the advice of their former attorney, who told them the order was
    under appeal.

    "These are not people who absconded," said Bernice Funk, the Hamouis'
    current attorney. "These are people who got bad legal advice."

    Collectively, Glaissia and the Hamouis have spent three years in the
    immigration jail. Drunken drivers, wife beaters and car thieves from Puget
    Sound have done less time. They acknowledge their immigration violations,
    but they argue that indefinite imprisonment is an unreasonable price to pay.

    "I didn't even have a traffic ticket," Glaissia said.

    The word of a 'freeloader'

    The U.S. government says Glaissia has never been a terrorist. He remains in
    jail because officials argue he could become one.

    Court documents say he arrived in America on a tourist visa in 1998. He
    renewed it once. When it expired a second time, he failed to renew it again.

    By then, he was working as a convenience store clerk in South Tacoma,
    living with two other men in a one-bedroom apartment on Orchard Street. He
    attended regular services at the Islamic Center of Tacoma and was engaged
    to be married.

    "Just a peaceful guy," said Saif Al Khawlani, a center member who testified
    on Glaissia's behalf. "Not trying to be violent to anybody. Muslim or
    non-Muslim."

    Glaissia took a religious trip to California in August 2001 with other
    members of the Tacoma mosque. While he was gone, his fiancé, Merry
    Peterson, met a 51-year-old woman named Ann Andersen, a Norwegian who said
    she was a Muslim convert. She said she and her 31-year-old son were
    homeless, and she came to the Islamic center seeking help.

    Peterson suggested that Andersen could stay at Glaissia's apartment for a
    time. Glaissia's roommates agreed. They gave Andersen the bedroom, and
    slept on the living room floor.

    Six weeks passed, during which Andersen did not find work or pay rent.

    In court testimony, Andersen's associates described her as a freeloader who
    moved from house to house without paying rent and concocted stories about
    her benefactors that turned out to be untrue.

    "She's just a liar," said Vicky Dobrin, Glaissia's attorney. "She makes
    stuff up."

    Andersen lived with a Tumwater couple named Grieben in the mid-1990s, and
    never paid rent. Twice, they asked her to leave, and paid her way to Norway.

    In court, Donald Grieben testified that Andersen had a "wild imagination,"
    claimed to have various ailments and injuries, and said there were prowlers
    in the neighborhood.

    After leaving the Grieben home for Norway, Andersen returned to Washington
    in summer 2001, and contacted the Mormon church to ask for money. She
    persuaded a Parkland woman named Linda Ellsworth to take her in.

    She lived with Ellsworth for about a month, and paid no rent. Eventually,
    Ellsworth asked Andersen to leave. Andersen contacted the Mormon church
    again, and told them "she needed a place to stay because Ellsworth was a
    Satan-worshipper," documents state.

    By September 2001, Glaissia and his roommates were making arrangements to
    move. Their lease on the Orchard Street apartment would expire at the end
    of the month. Andersen was told she would have to leave.

    She took no action for a week - the same week terrorists attacked the World
    Trade Center and the Pentagon. On Sept. 14, Andersen again was asked to
    leave the apartment.

    That night, she and her son were waiting at a bus stop when they spoke to a
    Tacoma police officer. Andersen told the officer she was renting a room
    from a Middle Eastern man who made "terrorist-type threats, " and said she
    heard him talking on the phone after the Sept. 11 attacks, saying, "This is
    Allah's will."

    She said Glaissia was an extremist who talked about "killing more
    Americans." She said he talked about the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and
    immigration buildings in Seattle, saying he wanted "to see them go."

    Local police notified the INS. Officers arrested Glaissia at his apartment
    Sept. 16, and charged him with violating the terms of his tourist visa.
    They questioned him about the threats. He strongly denied ever making them.
    His case was one of a handful initially closed to the public by order of
    the U.S. Justice Department.

    Glaissia's attorneys, Dobrin and Hillary Han of Seattle, sought his release
    on bond. A judge refused to grant it, citing the threats. Dobrin said the
    decision did not reflect standard practice, because Glaissia had no
    criminal record.

    The attorneys asked to cross-examine Andersen. INS officials said she could
    not be found. The attorneys hired a private investigator to find Andersen.
    In spring 2002, she was found - in Norway.

    Andersen signed an affidavit, saying she could not recall Glaissia ever
    making threats recounted to police. On April 25, 2002, she testified in
    immigration court, by telephone from Norway. Dobrin asked her about Glaissia.

    "Did he make any kind of terrorist threats?" Dobrin asked.

    "No," Andersen said.

    In his ruling on the case, federal Immigration Judge Kendall Warren said
    INS attorneys did not prove Glaissia was a terrorist. But he also ruled
    Glaissia had made the statements Andersen reported to police.

    He reasoned that Andersen said she didn't recall making the statements. She
    said police could have made them up. Asked whether she lied about Glaissia
    because she was angry about the eviction, Andersen said no.

    To Warren, that meant it was still possible Glaissia made the threats.

    "The attorney general might have reasonable grounds to believe that the
    respondent is likely to engage in terrorist activity," he ruled.

    Glaissia's attorneys are still trying to secure his release on bond. They
    have applied for asylum. They are appealing his case to higher courts. They
    have logged hundreds of hours on the case, but they are not charging him
    for their services.

    "We were really just astonished by what was happening," Dobrin said. "We
    couldn't believe that this was going to happen to somebody."

    Past INS practices no guide

    Hamoui owns a Mediterranean grocery store in Edmonds. He and his family
    have lived at the same rental house in Lynnwood for 10 years since arriving
    from Syria in 1992.

    Before INS officials detained them at gunpoint on Feb. 22, 2002, they had
    never been charged with a crime.

    "250,000 miles I am driving on American roads, not one traffic ticket,"
    Safouh Hamoui said. "I have never been in jail in my life."

    Since their arrival in the United States, the Hamouis have been seeking
    asylum, navigating the channels of the immigration court system.

    Hamoui's résumé may hurt his cause - he is a former pilot for the Syrian
    Air Force, a 20-year veteran.

    During an interview at the INS jail, he said he was piloting a commercial
    flight in January 1991 from Damascus, the Syrian capital, to Riyadh, Saudi
    Arabia, when he ran into bad weather. One of his passengers was the Syrian
    vice president.

    Struggling with wind shear and turbulence, Hamoui landed the plane safely.
    No one was hurt. But he said he was interrogated and forced to resign by
    government officials who suspected him of trying to harm the vice president.

    A year later, Hamoui moved his family out of the country. He followed a few
    months later. The family settled in Lynnwood, opened their store, and began
    seeking asylum.

    Neighbors and friends of the Hamouis, including two who work for the state
    Department of Transportation, have filed testimonials on their behalf,
    praising the family.

    "The Hamouis are known for their kindness and are well-respected in our
    community," said Mazen Wallaia, an Edmonds resident and DOT employee. "Mr.
    Safouh Hamoui is very helpful to others. He will go out of his way to help
    people."

    The Hamouis fear imprisonment and torture if they return to Syria. A March
    4 report from the U.S. State Department on human rights practices in Syria
    cites "credible evidence that security forces continued to use torture" on
    prisoners.

    "This is not like going to Japan or England or Mexico," Hamoui said. "This
    is like going to death."

    So far, INS and the courts have rejected the Hamouis' claim - they argue
    the family would not be tortured, and they say the family filed its claim
    too late.

    Federal law allows immigrants to seek relief from deportation if they face
    torture in their home country, but the Hamouis filed their relief claim
    after a federal deadline passed.

    The Hamouis say they missed the deadline and lost sympathy with the courts
    because three previous attorneys mishandled their case.

    Their lawyer, Funk, has filed complaints with the Washington State Bar
    Association against the Hamouis' former lawyers, contending they filed
    documents that were incomplete or late, and gave the family bad advice.

    "All three of these guys dropped the ball," she said.

    Two of the attorneys, Randall Hall and Dennis Olsen, dispute Funk's claim
    and say they acted in the Hamouis' best interests. The third, Antonio
    Salazar, did not return a phone call from The News Tribune.

    Court documents in the case include an FBI memo saying the agency has no
    interest in the Hamouis. On Sept. 12, 2001, six months before he and his
    family were detained, Safouh Hamoui donated $250 to victims of the Sept. 11
    attacks.

    Okin of Seattle's INS office said the family probably would not have been
    jailed had Ashcroft not announced the absconder initiative.

    "That's the tie-in to 9/11," Okin said.

    Though the Hamouis still were arguing their case in court, they faced a
    final deportation order - a "bag and baggage letter" demanding their
    appearance at the detention center. Taking the advice of their attorney at
    the time, they ignored it.

    According to Okin, past INS practice meant officials would give such cases
    low priority unless the immigrants involved were seen as a threat to the
    community.

    The absconder initiative changed that. Now there are no exceptions.

    "I don't think they're a threat to the community," Okin said, "but I do
    think they're fugitives from justice."

    Hanan Ismail hates the food in the detention center. She says it makes her
    ill. She suffers from Crohn's disease, an autoimmune disorder that tends to
    attack the digestive system. Her daughter, Nadin Hamoui, has high blood
    pressure and kidney stones. Since their arrival at the jail, both women
    have been taken to the hospital several times.

    "I didn't do anything," says Hanan Ismail. "How come for Sept. 11, I have
    to pay for it? Go get the right people. I'm not the one."

    Comment


    • #3
      This is very sad and unfortunatly it is something that is happning . This has to stop.Judging someone because they are not from here or because they look alike or are from a certain country.No that has to stop.

      Comment

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