Va. friends rally for Iraqi refugees in fraud case

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY RACHEL WEINER

Eleven years ago, two Iraqi broth­ers stranded at a refugee camp in Jor­dan made a fate­ful 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 terrorism 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 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’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 M. 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-in-law 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 co­work­ers 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.”

So, know­ing their brother had been ar­rested and ac­cused of in­volve­ment in terrorism, Hasan and Mash­hadani hid their re­la­tion­ship. For good mea­sure, they ex­ag­ger­ated the in­ten­sity of the threats they had faced for work­ing with Amer­i­cans in Baghdad. And when they filled out their U.S. nat­u­ral­iza­tion forms, they did not cor­rect the er­rors.

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 for this story.

While in Vir­ginia, the fam­i­lies lived a “spar­tan ex­is­tence” so they would not rely on char­ity for too long, Mon­sen re­called, although they al­ways scrounged to serve vol­un­teers huge home-cooked meals. They went on to help new refugees as they were helped, and neigh­bors say they were al­ways will­ing to lend a tool or of­fer a ride.

“Yousif and his fam­ily had very lit­tle dur­ing this try­ing time, but this never stopped their gen­eros­ity,” said Aaron Weiss, who met the fam­ily as a vol­un­teer with the In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Com­mit­tee.

Ni­nos Youkhana, whose par­ents fled Iraq in the 1970s, met Hasan work­ing at the Iraqi Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton. Only weeks later, when she was hav­ing trou­ble with her room­mate, Hasan and Ibrahim in­vited her to live with them.

For six months they housed her and cooked her meals, “and not once did they ever ask for any fi­nan­cial re­im­burse­ment from me,” she wrote in a let­ter to the court.

She said Hasan also helped fight an at­tempt to block Iraqi Chris­tians abroad from vot­ing in 2014 par­lia­men­tary elec­tions.

When in­ter­viewed by FBI agents this year, Hasan de­scribed a life of fear in Iraq, telling them he was once shot at while driv­ing to work and was de­tained for sev­eral hours by mem­bers of a Shi­ite mili­tia.

But while in Jor­dan ap­ply­ing for refugee sta­tus, the broth­ers fab­ri­cated a far more elab­o­rate tale in which Hasan was kid­napped for a month and their par­ents’ home was set on fire.

Although they have ad­mit­ted those lies and ex­pressed re­gret, both broth­ers main­tain that they know noth­ing about the ac­tions or where­abouts of Ma­jid al-Mash­hadani, who ac­cord­ing to prose­cu­tors had ad­mit­ted his in­volve­ment in the 2004 kid­nap­ping of an Amer­i­can con­trac­tor and four oth­ers.

A pa­per with Yousif al-Mash­hadani’s fin­ger­print on it was found in the farm­house where the hostages were kept. How­ever, there is no ev­i­dence the print was left dur­ing the kid­nap­ping and he has not been charged in con­nec­tion with that crime.

An­other brother, ac­cord­ing to court fil­ings, listed Ma­jid al-Mash­hadani on his im­mi­gra­tion papers and is now a U.S. cit­i­zen.

Roy Hal­lums, the con­trac­tor who was kid­napped and res­cued 10 months later, was un­able to see or un­der­stand his cap­tors. But he is sure the broth­ers are ly­ing now.

“In the Mid­dle East and in Iraq, ev­ery­thing is based on fam­ily,” Hal­lums said. “So I don’t be­lieve for one second that th­ese guys didn’t know what was go­ing on.”

Even if they didn’t, im­mi­gra­tion foes see jus­tice be­ing done.

“Their first in­ter­ac­tion with the U.S. gov­ern­ment was to lie,” said Mark Kriko­rian of the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies, a think tank that op­poses most new im­mi­gra­tion.

Un­til this March, the fam­ily would not have had to worry about be­ing sent back to Iraq. Only in April, af­ter years of re­fusal, did the Iraqi gov­ern­ment agree to start co­op­er­at­ing with Amer­i­can de­por­ta­tion ef­forts.

But a fed­eral judge in Detroit has tem­po­rar­ily halted those de­por­ta­tions in re­sponse to a law­suit from the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union ar­gu­ing that it is too dan­ger­ous to de­port peo­ple to the coun­try.

Although it is un­clear what will hap­pen to the three refugees, in court last week Hasan spoke as if he was say­ing goodbye.

“Thank you to the United States for host­ing me for nine years,” he said.

Be­fore he was taken back to jail and then to im­mi­gra­tion cus­tody, he shook the hands of the prose­cu­tors who had put him there.

“I’m re­ally thank­ful,” he said, “and I love this coun­try.”

U.S. DISTRICT COURT FIL­ING

From left, Yousif al-Mash­hadani, Marie Mon­sen, Mash­hadani’s wife, Rashad Ibrahim, Enas Ibrahim and hus­band Adil Hasan, and an uniden­ti­fied friend in an un­dated pho­to­graph. The two broth­ers and Enas Ibrahim were con­victed of fraud and may be de­ported.

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