BY SOOJUNG CHANG
DAILY NEWS EDITOR
Published July 20, 2003
Muslim community leader Rabih Haddad has been deported to Lebanon, but many individuals and groups left behind are still working on his behalf.
Haddad, the co-founder of a Muslim charity accused of having terrorist ties, first made headlines when several Detroit newspapers and U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit) sued the government for closing his immigration hearings to the public. Prior to his sudden deportation on Monday, he had been imprisoned without bail for 19 months for overstaying his visa.
Kristine Abougahr, spokeswoman for the Free Rabih Haddad Committee, said their initial efforts were focused on ensuring that Haddad will be reunited with his family. The group called an emergency meeting on Tuesday after hearing about the deportation.
"We finally found out ... that the rest of the family is going to join the father," she said. "The family is able to travel together, and the eventual destination is Lebanon with a stopover in Kuwait," Abouzahr added.
The reunion was difficult to arrange and took the concerted effort of several parties, Abouzahr said. The FRHC worked with the family's legal counsel, the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor, Conyers' office, the Lebanese counselate in Detroit, and the Kuwaiti embassy in Washington, D.C.
Haddad's wife, Salma Al-Rushaid, is a Kuwaiti citizen, while three of her children have Lebanese passports. The youngest is an American citizen. In order for all of them to be able to enter Lebanon, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement will have to arrange for all of the children to receive Kuwaiti passports and renew Al-Rushaid's, which had expired.
Abouzahr said they are satisfied with the outcome, although still shocked and disappointed at the sudden deportation.
"The whole situation overall is not something that anyone is happy with," she said.
The nature of Haddad's deportation - he was secretly deported without notice to his family - has prompted several individuals and groups to question the government's actions in the case.
The Associated Press reported that Conyers wrote a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on Thursday demanding further information about Haddad's deportation, which he said "follows a disturbing trend toward secrecy in what should be open procedures."
Conyers questioned why Haddad's family didn't find out about the deportation until he called them from Amsterdam on his way to Lebanon. He also called attention to the fact that the government never prosecuted Haddad for terrorist activity.
"If your immigration officials are correct, your staff released a person with credible ties to terrorism," Conyers wrote.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the deportment or Conyers' statement.
The Ann Arbor Bill of Rights Defense Committee said in a written statement that a preliminary inquiry has revealed that the Ann Arbor Police Department may have provided assistance to federal authorities in the arrest of Haddad. They are calling upon the Ann Arbor City Council and the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners to investigate the role of local law enforcement in Haddad's arrest.
Haddad's lawyer, Ashraf Nubani, said beyond efforts to reunite Haddad with his family, there is not much that can be done for him in the future.
"It's possible that Mr. Haddad and his family can try to reenter the United States. If they do that, then the community can try to lend support to that effort," he said.
"Right now the only thing that we can do is carry on the struggle that he started, which is to vindicate the Global Relief Foundation," he added.
Nubani said Haddad's deportation is yet another example of the Justice Department's misuse of immigration laws against people from certain Middle East countries.
"They let pastor Haddad leave the country indicating that he wasn't as big of a threat as the government claimed" he said.
"Basically, the government has not established that he was a threat ... that he was tied to terrorism. And yet they kept him confined for over a year and a half because of a visa violation," he added.