Continuing the Good Fight
Herald News Op-Ed
Last year, a federal immigration judge ruled in favor of Imam Mohammad Qatanani’s petition to become a permanent U.S. resident. Since 1999, U.S. immigration authorities have denied the imam’s petition for a variety of reasons. In his 71-page ruling last year, the judge dismissed the government’s case as “patently incomplete” and deemed two federal agents’ conflicting testimonies as “not credible.” Consequently, the government sought an appeal of the judge’s decision.
After 10 months of review by the government-appointed Board of Immigration Appeals, a 12-page written decision was recently forwarded to the imam’s lead attorney, Claudia Slovinsky. As the document states: the appeal was “sustained in part and dismissed in part” and it returned the matter to the same judge for “further consideration of the evidence of record, for the submission of such additional relevant evidence as appropriate, and the entry of a new decision.”
At the May 2008 trial, the Department of Homeland Security had sought to link Qatanani, a Palestinian who emigrated from Jordan to the United States in 1996, to Hamas, which the U.S. classifies as a terrorist organization. The linkage was one of many tactics the DHS employed justifying and confirming its denial of residency status. The imam’s attorney successfully argued against the government’s assertions justifying its deportation proceedings. In the course of a five-day trial, it was shown that the government’s case was baseless and weak on both evidence and credibility.
Americans for Qatanani, a national, grass-roots organization that supports the imam, views the appeal board’s decision as a bittersweet development and only a detour in the imam’s pursuit of becoming a proud, contributing U.S. citizen. We had hoped the board’s decision would be completely in our favor, ending years of agony and uncertainty for the imam, his family and the entire Muslim community.
Notwithstanding, we remain confident of the facts that compelled the immigration judge to render a favorable ruling. We are ready to again defend the imam, demonstrate the irreplaceable values he has come to represent, and loudly proclaim the imam’s message of moderation. Proactive and participatory citizenship only furthers the nurturing of America’s ideals, America’s promise and America’s future. A closer look at the board’s recent decision confirms our assertion that its members gave little weight to the lengthy brief submitted by the imam’s legal team. While we could count no fewer than six specific references to the government’s brief, we found no reference agreeing or even acknowledging ours.
We believe it would be a task to find an immigrant who has done more for his community than our imam. Steadfastly, Qatanani has advocated tolerance and understanding between all faiths ever since his arrival in 1996. In the dark days after Sept. 11, Qatanani reached out to members of other faiths and to the FBI and other agencies. His leading work was critical to helping Muslims, law enforcement and the community work to ease the tensions that emerged.
The Muslim community has taken ownership of the imam’s case and views its satisfactory conclusion as a defining expression of its religious and civil rights.
Our faith in the imam’s case is matched equally by our unyielding trust in the endearing qualities of our justice system.
Aref Assaf, president of the American Arab Forum, heads the media office of Americans for Qatanani, based in Paterson.