Pales­tinian mother, 4 chil­dren re­leased from de­ten­tion cen­ter

Fa­ther re­mains in cus­tody; fam­ily to face new asy­lum hear­ing

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page - By PAUL MEYER and DIANNE SOLI´S Staff Writ­ers

TAY­LOR, Texas — The 15-yearold Pales­tinian boy sat inside a black Lin­coln limou­sine Satur­day morn­ing, search­ing for the right words as his young sis­ters gig­gled and his preg­nant mother smiled shyly. “Re­ally bad.” The two words were all Hamzeh Ibrahim could come up with to de­scribe three months in a Cen­tral Texas im­mi­gra­tion hold­ing fa­cil­ity that ended Satur­day when the sopho­more at Richard­son’s Berkner High School, his mother, Hanan, and three younger sis­ters were re­leased.

The Ibrahims had be­come the face of a de­bate over re­cent changes in U.S. im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy that have led to de­ten­tion cen­ters for cer­tain non-Mex­i­can im­mi­grant fam­i­lies with chil­dren. The T. Don Hutto Fam­ily Res­i­den­tial Fa­cil­ity in Tay­lor, just north­east of Austin, is one of two such places in the na­tion.

The Ibrahim mother and chil­dren were be­ing held on a de­porta-

tion or­der. They were re­leased a day af­ter a fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion ap­peals board agreed to re­open their asy­lum case, es­sen­tially nul­li­fy­ing the or­der. They now face a new asy­lum hear­ing, which has not been sched­uled.

The chil­dren’s fa­ther, 37-yearold Sala­hed­din Ibrahim, re­mained de­tained Satur­day in a Haskell, Texas, fa­cil­ity hun­dreds of miles away near Abi­lene. His de­tained wife and chil­dren have had no con­tact with him since their ar­rests in Novem­ber. Au­thor­i­ties have not dis­closed why Mr. Ibrahim was sep­a­rated from his fam­ily nor given a timetable for his re­lease.

Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment spokesman Carl Rus­nok said Satur­day af­ter­noon that he could not com­ment specif­i­cally on the Ibrahim case.

He said that last year, more than 600,000 im­mi­grants faced out­stand­ing de­por­ta­tion or­ders and had not been de­tained.

A na­tional im­mi­gra­tion ex­pert said the de­bate over the case raises “im­por­tant ques­tions on how we treat fam­i­lies, the ten­sion be­tween keep­ing fam­i­lies to­gether and im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment when we sim­ply don’t have enough fa­cil­i­ties.”

‘Hu­man con­se­quences’

“Here, the hu­man con­se­quences of those two things col­lide,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an im­mi­gra­tion law pro­fes­sor at Cornell Law School.

The Ibrahims, who ar­rived on valid visas from the West Bank in 2001, were de­nied asy­lum and or­dered de­ported in 2003. At­tempts to re­open their case were de­nied in 2004 and 2005. Then in Novem­ber, they were among a num­ber of “fugi­tive aliens and im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus vi­o­la­tors” whom the gov­ern­ment ap­pre­hended for their fail­ure to obey fed­eral de­por­ta­tion or­ders, the gov­ern­ment said at the time.

But once in de­ten­tion, they were un­able to se­cure the right to cross into their Pales­tinian home­land through Jor­dan or Is­rael, leav­ing them with no place to go. Their tem­po­rary Jor­da­nian pass­ports have ex­pired, and Is­rael his­tor­i­cally has not al­lowed Pales­tini­ans to re­turn home through that coun­try. Lawyers for the Ibrahims sent let­ters to 54 coun­tries — in­clud­ing the Vat­i­can — ask­ing each to ac­cept the fam­ily.

Joshua Bar­david, one of the fam­ily’s at­tor­neys, on Satur­day re­peated crit­i­cism of the pro­longed de­ten­tion of the fam­ily in the Hutto fa­cil­ity, say­ing it’s no place for a child.

“The as­ser­tion that this is a res­i­den­tial cen­ter is a farce,” Mr. Bar­david said. “This is a prison. As joy­ous as [the fam­ily’s re­lease] is, they are go­ing to need some time to grieve and de­com­press.”

Hamzeh — slight of build with wavy, dark hair — served as the English-to-Ara­bic trans­la­tor inside the lockup for his mother. He had a cell apart from the rest of his fam­ily, ac­cord­ing to at­tor­neys.

“I just want to shut the place down. It was a re­ally bad place. The peo­ple there were re­ally rude, to me, to my mother, to ev­ery­body,” he said.

The limou­sine for Hamzeh, his mother and sis­ters Faten, 5; Maryam, 8, and Ro­daina, 14, was pro­vided by Dal­las real es­tate de­vel­oper and sup­porter Ralph Isen­berg.

Once inside, each of sib­lings cud­dled with their 3-year-old sis­ter, Zahra Ibrahim, the youngest mem­ber of the clan. She was not de­tained with other fam­ily mem­bers be­cause she was born in the U.S. and is a cit­i­zen. Ah­mad Ibrahim, an un­cle, has been car­ing for her in Far North­east Dal­las.

A par­tially veiled Hanan Ibrahim, 34, was the last to em­brace Zahra. She ca­ressed her cheeks and stared into the child’s large, brown eyes. It was the first time she had seen her daugh­ter since the fam­ily’s ar­rests.

Later Satur­day, as the Ibrahims headed to­ward their Richard­son apart­ment, Hamzeh de­scribed by tele­phone the be­gin­ning of the fam­ily’s or­deal. The teenager said it be­gan with chaos when im­mi­gra­tion agents roused them from bed at 5 a.m. Nov. 2.

“I thought it was a dream when they came to my house,” he said. “I felt like that for about three days. And then I started to think, ‘How could they do that to lit­tle girls and their fam­i­lies?’ ”

Hamzeh said he, his sis­ters and mother are very happy to be free and hoped that other fam­i­lies at the Hutto fa­cil­ity could also get out.

Im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials have de­fended Hutto, call­ing it an ef­fec­tive and hu­mane way to keep fam­i­lies from skip­ping im­mi­gra­tion hear­ings. They note fea­tures like school­ing with state-cer­ti­fied teach­ers and a 2,000-plus-book gen­eral li­brary. Hamzeh was not im­pressed. “I’m a sopho­more in high school, and they were try­ing to teach things like ABCs, and things you learn in first grade,” he said.

The teenager added that the fa­cil­ity had no hot wa­ter for show­ers, and he es­ti­mates that about 80 per­cent of the res­i­dents were chil­dren. When asked what he missed dur­ing his three months at the de­ten­tion cen­ter, Hamzeh said, “My sis­ter.”

The boy said life inside the Hutto fa­cil­ity for the most part was “very bor­ing.”

But he did say some de­tainees, in­clud­ing him, were or­dered once a week to clean the bath­rooms used by ev­ery­one in the pod. And be­cause he did not want his preg­nant mother to have to do that kind of work, Hamzeh said, he would also do the bath­rooms on the days his mother was as­signed.

Ran­cor over im­mi­grants

Mr. Yale-Loehr said the Ibrahims had a le­gal right to be re­leased.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that you can­not hold some­one in­def­i­nitely,” he said.

As ran­cor over il­le­gal im­mi­grants grows, Mr. Yale-Loehr said, he ex­pects raids to in­crease across the United States. There are about 27,500 peo­ple held in im­mi­gra­tion de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties each day, he said, cit­ing fig­ures pro­vided by Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment.

“The gov­ern­ment is try­ing to get a han­dle on en­force­ment, so more peo­ple are go­ing to be ar­rested,” he said.

About a dozen sup­port­ers cheered the Ibrahim fam­ily Satur­day when they emerged from the Hutto fa­cil­ity.

“The things that my par­ents were fight­ing for in the ’60s are be­ing taken from us now,” said Tay­lor res­i­dent An­gela Ko­pit, who came with her three sons.

“This is the fear of im­mi­grants in its ugli­est form.”

But Hamzeh Ibrahim was in no mood Satur­day for more de­bate.

“Right now, all I want to do is go home and sleep,” he said.

Staff writer Frank Trejo con­trib­uted to this story.

ERICH SCHLEGEL/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

Maryam Ibrahim, 8, hugged 3-year-old sis­ter Zahra af­ter the fam­ily was re­leased from fed­eral cus­tody Satur­day.

Pho­tos by ERICH SCHLEGEL/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

Dallas res­i­dent Ah­mad Ibrahim held niece Faten Ibrahim, 5, Satur­day af­ter the Ibrahims were re­leased from the im­mi­gra­tion de­ten­tion cen­ter where they’d been since Novem­ber.

A group cheers as the Ibrahim mother and chil­dren leave in a limou­sine. The fa­ther re­mains in a fa­cil­ity near Abi­lene.

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