Two Iraqi brothers fudged kinship to third, face deportation
Eleven years ago, two Iraqi brothers stranded at a refugee camp in Jordan made a choice they thought was really no choice at all.
Determined not to return to a country where they thought they would be killed, they obscured their relationship with a third brother, who was accused of terrorist ties and ultimately linked to the kidnapping of a U.S. contractor and others in Iraq.
The brothers, with their wives and children, were allowed into the United States. And over the past decade, they built a life in Fairfax, Va., finding work and making friends, having picnics and visiting the zoo. Each brother has two children born in the United States.
Now, Yousif al-Mashhadani, 35; his brother, Adil Hasan, 39; and Hasan’s wife, Enas Ibrahim, 32, have been convicted in federal court in Alexandria, Va., on fraud charges. With all three at risk of deportation, friends and supporters say a good family is being torn apart and are pushing for them to be allowed to remain in the country.
“Justice cries out for compassion in this case,” Marie Monsen, who worked with the refugees as a church volunteer, wrote in a letter to the court.
Federal prosecutors said they pursued the cases in hopes of catching Majid al-Mashhadani, who the government believes was involved in the kidnapping and had been released from prison in Iraq after only a couple of years. But authorities have given no indication that the three refugees have provided useful information about the crime or Majid al-Mashhadani’s whereabouts.
“I’m not sure how it accomplished anything,” said Ibrahim’s attorney, Lana Manitta. “I don’t think they’re any closer to getting the answers they need.”
Judge Leonie Brinkema last month sentenced the brothers to only the three months they have spent in jail for their crimes but acknowledged that they would be transferred immediately to immigration custody.
“This is a tragic case,” she said in court. “But the law is what it is.”
She questioned why Ibrahim, who has not yet been sentenced, was targeted at all. She was prosecuted in large part to give “incentives for her husband and brother-inlaw to give information on the kidnapping and torture of an American citizen,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg said in court.
He said she was also “complicit” in the decision to lie to a United Nations refugee agency.
The brothers and their families fled Iraq in 2006, when sectarian violence in the country was at its height. When the family arrived in Jordan, Ibrahim was pregnant with her first child. She and her sister Rashad, Yousif al-Mashhadani’s wife, both had their first children at the refugee camp.
While pleading guilty, Hasan explained his fear of being sent back to Iraq.
“I am Sunni, and I will be killed by the Sunnis because I was working in the Green Zone,” he said. “The Shiites will kill me because I am Sunni.”
Both brothers had worked for a U.S.-supported anti-corruption agency in Iraq known at the time as the Commission on Public Integrity. Dozens of their co-workers were assassinated to keep investigations from coming to fruition.
In court, Hasan said he personally knew 56 people who had been killed. According to court filings, 65 members of the watchdog agency have been assassinated. Arthur Brennan, who worked on corruption in Iraq for the State Department in 2007, wrote to the judge that Iraqis connected to law enforcement at the time were “in an extremely dangerous situation.”
Hasan has pleaded guilty to naturalization fraud, Mashhadani to conspiracy to commit immigration fraud. Both agreed to cooperate with immigration authorities. Ibrahim admitted lying about her income to secure a car loan two years ago, a charge that does not automatically trigger deportation proceedings. The families declined to comment.
Another brother, according to court filings, listed Majid al-Mashhadani on his immigration papers and is now a U.S. citizen.