By: Dr. Aref Assaf
Almost four years ago, a bittersweet victory was the outcome of a three-day trial in which a federal judge ruled in favor of iImamMohammad 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 2008 71-page ruling, the immigration 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. A new court date, exactly four years since the first trial, has been set for May 7, 2012, in Newark, New Jersey.
The government’s appeal was tasked to the Board of Immigration Appeals, (BIA), comprising three members who, after 10 months of review, produced a 12-page written decision. 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.”
The Board reversed the judge’s granting of a green card, making many errors of law, including two shocking allegations. The first egregious error was to declare that it is acceptable for an FBI agent to be evasive and non-responsive when testifying in court. The second was that a conviction obtained outside the United States by means of torture ( an in a language unknown to the defendant) cannot be questioned by a US court and must be given full credit and force. 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.
By sending the case back to the immigration judge, the BIA prevented the imam from appealing the case to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals where the chances were better that such dead wrong assertions would be corrected. So this case is now back before the immigration judge in Newark.
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, or A4Q, a national, grass-roots organization that supports the imam, views the appeal board’s decision as a bittersweet development and a detour in the imam’s pursuit of becoming a proud, contributing U.S. citizen. Members of A4Q had hoped that the Board’s decision would be completely in its favor, ending years of agony and uncertainty for the imam, his family, and the entire Muslim community.
Notwithstanding, A4Q remains confident of the facts that compelled the immigration judge to render a favorable ruling. They appear ready to again defend the imam, to demonstrate the irreplaceable values he has come to represent, and to 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.
It would be a real task to find an immigrant who has done more for his community than the 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 his 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. Qatanani and all his backers are ready to go to court with confidence. Their faith in the imam’s case is matched equally by the unyielding trust in the endearing qualities of our justice system.