Palestinian mother, 4 children released from detention center
Father remains in custody; family to face new asylum hearing
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.”
“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.
Maryam Ibrahim, 8, hugged 3-year-old sister Zahra after the family was released from federal custody Saturday.
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.