Only in America:
Officials appeal imam ruling
What was expected to be a day of jubilation at the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson today turned into one of bitterness as news spread that the mosque’s spiritual leader must renew his fight against deportation.
“We thought it was over,” said Awatif Abadrabbo, referring to the announcement by Homeland Security officials that were appealing an immigration judge’s ruling last month granting Imam Mohammad Qatanani permanent U.S. residency.
“We want him to stay,” she said. “He has been good for us, for our children.”
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â * Good to make them little ‘martyr’s’ for the cause…
Other congregants said the appeal would taint a relationship between the mosque and federal officials developed since Sept. 11, 2001, when Qatanani was one of the first imams nationwide to condemn the attacks and invited the FBI to the mosque to address the congregation.
“This is vindictive,” said Aref Assaf, spokesman for the imam. “The implications for relations between our community and the federal government are damaging and far-reaching.”
DHS filed a notice Thursday that they will appeal Immigration Court Judge Alberto Riefkohl’s ruling. DHS, which includes immigration agencies, contends in its appeal notice that Qatanani “engaged in terrorist activity” in the early 1990’s with Hamas, a group in the Middle East that the United States classifies as terrorist.
Riefkohl rejected DHS’s claims, which relied heavily on Israeli documents that the judge found questionable.
“ICE believes that the immigration judge made mistakes of law, judgment and discretion,” said the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Many Muslims view the government’s new effort to deport the imam, hailed across New Jersey as a voice of moderation and a bridge-builder between Muslims and non-Muslims, as an attack on their religion and their culture.
Qatanani said the government’s decision was bewildering.
Â “I’m surprised and disappointed,” Qatanani said. “I extended a hand to the government to continue to help them reach out to our community, and they didn’t take the hand.”
The imam came to the United States on a religious visa in 1996 with his wife and three children. Three more children were born in the United States.
During his time as imam, Qatanani, a soft-spoken, diminutive man, has won the respect of people from different religions and ethnic communities. In addition, the state’s most powerful political and law enforcement officials often make a point of attending major events at his mosque. On Wednesday, at a 7 a.m. event which marked the end of the holy month of Ramadan, Gov. Jon Corzine was the main speaker at the mosque.
Â Homeland Security had argued during the four days of the trial earlier this year that Qatanani, 44, lied in his 1999 application for residency because he failed to disclose a conviction in Israel in 1993 based on purported links to Hamas. They tried to forge a link between Qatanani and the mosque’s former imam, Mohamed El-Mezain, who is facing conspiracy charges by the federal government in Dallas. The government is seeking a conviction against El-Mezaain and other past officers of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a Muslim charity shut down in 2001 that U.S. officials accuses of funneling more than $12 million to Hamas.
The judge chastised DHS prosecutors for trying to establish “guilt by association.”
In his defense at the trial, Qatanani maintained that during a visit from Jordan, where he had been living, to his native West Bank in 1993, he was detained by Israeli authorities. But he said that during the three-month detention, Israelis never told him he was officially arrested or convicted of anything. He also testified that he was tortured during that detention.
Experts on the Israeli judicial system testified that Israel routinely detained Palestinian men without charges. They argued that Qatanani would not have been released after only three months if the Israelis believed he had an association with Hamas.
On Thursday, Oct. 2, the Department of Homeland Security filed a notice of appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals contesting a U.S. Immigration Court judge’s rulng on Sept. 4 that granted Imam Mohammad Qatanani, his wife, Sumaia, and three of their children permanent U.S. residency.
Homeland Security will have 21 days to submit its brief detailing the grounds for the appeal. Judge Alberto Riefkohl dismissed the government’s accusation that Qatanani lied on his U.S. residency application when he did not disclose a 1993 detention and purported conviction by Israeli authorities.
After DHS files its briefs, Qatanani will have up to 21 days to submit his response. Either side may request one, 21-day extension.
One or more members of the Board of Immigration Appeals, which is part of the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, in Falls Church, Va., will examine all the documents and render a written decision.
After the BOIA issues a decision, a further appeal may be made to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia. After that, there is the U.S. Supreme Court.
(Source: Executive Office for Immigration Review)