Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Federal judge orders residency decision for Iraqi refugee considered a terrorist (Deseret News)

Federal judge orders residency decision for Iraqi refugee considered a terrorist
By Dennis Romboy, Deseret News
Published: Monday, May 16, 2011 7:11 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — President George H. W. Bush announced on Voice of America radio in February 1991 that there was another way for the bloodshed in Iraq to stop: "And that is for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside …"

Kassim Alshamsawi joined an uprising against the regime in Nasiriyah the next month, carried a weapon and manned a checkpoint.

Now the United States considers him a terrorist.

Alshamsawi came to the U.S. in 1997 as a political refugee based on his opposition to Hussein. In 2004, he filed paperwork to become a legal permanent resident and get a green card.

More than six years later, the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service has not made a decision on his application, saying he is statutorily inadmissible because he engaged in terrorist activity against a government.

But a federal judge has ordered Customs and Immigration to approve or reject Alshamsawi's application within 30 days. Alshamsawi sued Customs and Immigration and several other federal agencies last year.

"I'm glad to be here because I love this country. There was a revolution in my country. I had to run away from Saddam. America saved my life," Alshamsawi said. "I'm still waiting for the decision (on the green card). Hopefully, they're going to approve it."

In his ruling on Friday, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups wrote that the government should handle these "delicate and challenging" cases in a deliberate manner, but an indefinite or more than six-year delay is unreasonable.

"If this case involves national security or foreign policy repercussions, such repercussions seem inevitable," Waddoups wrote. "After all, unless the delay reflects an intention never to decide, Mr. Alshamsawi's application must be decided at some point."

Waddoups' ruling did not address the merits of Alshamsawi's application but only the delay in the process.

Opposing a dictator the U.S. considered public enemy No. 1 and then being labeled a terrorist because of it is a "ridiculous" position for the government to maintain, said Alshamsawi's attorney Shawn Foster.

"He takes offense to the notion that anyone would call him a terrorist," Foster said.

Alshamsawi, 42, said he tries to ignore that label because he knows it isn't true. "I know myself," he said. "I'm not a terrorist."

A Salt Lake cab driver, Alshamsawi said he works hard, pay taxes and wants to become a U.S. citizen.

Being in limbo has prevented him from getting married and starting a family, something he said he very much wants to do. He has a fiancee in Iraq he wants to bring over. As a refugee, he may remain in the U.S. indefinitely.

Attorneys for the government argued that the delay actually helps Alshamsawi.

There is a provision in immigration law allowing the government an exemption to admit as residents certain people who otherwise wouldn't be eligible due to terrorist activity. In March 2008, the deputy director of Customs and Immigration placed applications that could benefit from the exemption on hold. Alshamsawi fell into that category.

But Foster said that doesn't explain the holdup for the four years prior to that, calling it a "smokescreen." Government attorneys contend it was due to a backlog of required background checks in the FBI. Alshamsawi said he has done nothing wrong and has nothing to hide.

Government attorneys argued that if ordered to decide now, the application would likely be denied and deportation proceedings could begin.

Alshamawi said he is willing to take that risk.

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