Beginning in the early morning hours of November 2, 2006, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) arrested three Palestinian families in Dallas, TX and jailed them, including their minor children. They are the families of Adel Suleiman, Salaheddin Ibrahim and Radi Hazahza. All three families had been under final removal orders from the United States for several years because their applications for political asylum were denied more than two years ago and all avenues of appeal had been exhausted. Under prior policy, ICE had not actively sought removal of these families from the US, and Palestinians denied asylum had regularly been allowed to remain in the United States without legal immigration status although formally under orders of removal. In the early hours of November 2, 2006, that policy changed and numerous Palestinian asylum applicants with denied asylum claims in the Dallas, TX area were arrested under a new ICE initiative, “Operation Return to Sender.”
Because the United States does not recognize the right of 1948 and 1967 Palestinian refugees to refugee status as a matter of law, under Article 1(D) of the 1951 Refugee Convention, Palestinians are regularly denied asylum and recognition of their refugee rights in the United States. The denials are frequently on the basis of the applicant having been a victim of generalized conditions of violence rather than having been individually targeted, and only applicants with Palestinian National Authority (PNA) passports are identified as Palestinian in the immigration system in the United States. The US Department of Justice reports that of 30 Palestinian asylum applications filed in the United States from 2001-2005, 2 have been granted and 28 have been denied. But none of the families discussed here were probably included in that number because all three families carried Jordanian passports at entry to the United States.(2) Palestinians carrying travel documents from other countries or who were born outside of Palestine are regularly categorized by the US immigration system as nationals of their country of birth or country whose travel documents they carry. For example, a Palestinian child born to a guest worker in Saudi Arabia would be considered Saudi Arabian by American immigration despite having no right to legal residence or citizenship in Saudi Arabia.
The adult males from the Ibrahim and Hazahza families and the two oldest daughters of the Hazahza family were jailed in Haskell, Texas. The mothers and minor children (with the exception of Ahmad Hazahza, 17 who was held in Haskell as an adult) were jailed at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas, south of Austin, TX, and many hundreds of miles from their family members. While called a detention center, the T. Don Hutto Center is a prison, and is a diabolical new creation of the Department of Homeland Security. It is a prison designed specifically for the purpose of jailing non-Mexican families who the US government is deporting from the United States, including children no matter how young they may be. The government claims that despite the children never having committed any criminal offense, the jailing of these immigrant children is humane and reasonable because they are to be deported from the United States. In the author’s view, there is no possible justification for jailing children. What could 5, 8, 11 and 14 year olds possibly have done to warrant jailing in a prison? That their imprisonment was allowed to continue for three months is a crime against humanity.
All three Palestinian families entered the United States legally with visas and applied for political asylum.
The Ibrahim family
The Ibrahim family came from the West Bank and includes Salaheddin, 36, his wife Hanan Ahmad, 34, who is pregnant, Faten Ibrahim, 5; Maryam Ibrahim, 8; Rodaina Ibrahim, 14; and Hamsa Ibrahim, 15. Three year old Zahra Ibrahim has been separated from her parents, brother and sisters for about three months. Because she was born in the United States and is a US citizen, Zahra was not jailed and has been cared for by her uncle Ahmad during the detention of her family. The Board of Immigration Appeals has recently issued a decision reopening the political asylum case of Salaheddin Ibrahim. Pursuant to that decision, Hanan and the Ibrahim children were released from custody on Saturday, February 2, 2007 and they have returned to their home in Richardson, Texas. A new hearing will now be scheduled on the asylum application in immigration court. Salaheddin remains incarcerated at this time and it is uncertain whether he will be released from custody while the asylum claim is processed or whether he will remain jailed until the case is completed in immigration court. A bond hearing in immigration court is currently scheduled on Wednesday February 7, 2007.
The Hazahza family
The Hazahza family includes Radi, a 1948 refugee, age 60, whose Jordanian citizenship was taken from him under the Disengagement Accords(3) because he obtained a PNA passport, i.e. a travel document, and moved his family to the West Bank; his wife Nazmieh Juma, Ahmad Hazahza, 17; Suzan Hazahza, 19 (engaged to US citizen); Mirvat Hazahza, 23 (newly married to a US citizen and honors graduate of college in the US); Mohammad Hazahza, 11 and Hisham Hazahza, 23. Nazmieh Juma, his wife, is a Jordanian citizen and does not have a PNA passport, but the children do. When Radi’s Jordanian citizenship was taken away, Nazmieh Juma’s Jordanian passport was marked that her children were of a “foreigner” father. Another son, Bassam Hazahza was recently shot to death by police officers in the Dallas area and the police officers were scheduled for hearing before the grand jury several days after the incarceration of the Hazahza family. The family was in mourning at the time of their arrest and incarceration, and Nazmieh Juma has been separated even from her daughters, who are imprisoned in Haskell. It is believed that their removal is currently being sought to Jordan but the status of the removal is currently unknown.
The Suleiman Family
The Suleiman family includes Adel, a 1948 refugee, age 60, his wife Asma Quaddura and their 17 year old son Ayman whose high school graduation was ruined by his imprisonment. Adel was jailed at the Oklahoma County Jail in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma while his wife and son were jailed at the Hutto Detention Center for families, many hours and hundreds of miles away. It is believed that the Suleiman family was removed to Jordan on Monday, January 28, 2006. Adel Suleiman was born in a refugee camp in Silwad, Palestine in 1955 to 1948 refugee parents from Haifa and is a 1948 Palestinian refugee. Adel’s father moved his family to Kuwait in 1960. Asma, Adel’s wife, was born in Kuwait as was their son, Ayman. Adel’s affidavit regarding his immigration case and asylum claim can be found at: http://texascivilrightsreview.org/phpnuke/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=72.
Despite Adel’s credible fear of persecution in Jordan, Kuwait and Palestine, he and his family have now been removed to Jordan where they have no known means of survival.
There have been small but vocal protests in the United States because of the jailing of the Palestinian families, including young children, in Texas. The cases have also received fairly extensive media coverage. Neither action was successful in obtaining the release of the unfortunate families, not even the release of the youngest of the children. The reopening of Salaheddin Ibrahim’s case by the Board of Immigration Appeals has resulted in the release from custody of his pregnant wife and young children but it has not been sufficient to release him from jail at this time. Article 1(D) of the 1951 Refugee Convention entitles 1948 and 1967 Palestinian refugees to recognition as refugees anywhere outside of the area of UNRWA operation without the necessity of proving entitlement to refugee status under Article 1(A) of the Convention. It is essential that the United States and its western allies both recognize the rights of Palestinian refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention and stop jailing innocent children in contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child based on failed American immigration policy.
Karen H. Pennington is a refugee and immigration lawyer based in Dallas, Texas.
(1) The United States has signed the Convention but has never completed its ratification process. The administration of George Bush has explicitly opposed the treaty, stating: “The Convention on the Rights of the Child may be a positive tool for promoting child welfare for those countries that have adopted it. But we believe the text goes too far when it asserts entitlements based on economic, social and cultural rights. ... The human rights-based approach ... poses significant problems as used in this text.”
(2) It has been reported that the Canadian Consulate in Amman, Jordan has offered to resettle 1948 Palestinian refugees in Jordan to Canada, contingent on the applicant proving UNRWA registration as a 1948 refugee and subject to the agreement in writing to give up all refugee rights under the UNRWA registration and any claim of land rights in 1948 Palestine. The Canadian Consulate has also reportedly advised applicants that both Australia and Germany have adopted the same resettlement policy for 1948 Palestinian refugees. The author has tried to ascertain whether these are formal policies of the countries in question but has been unsuccessful thus far in making that determination.
(3) No. From US Dept. State 2002 “During the year, there were allegations that the [Jordanian] Government did not consistently apply citizenship laws. There were 32 cases reported in which passports were taken by the Government in efforts to implement 1988 West Bank disengagement laws. In 2001, there were reports of 52 complaints from persons or families claiming that the Government denied their right to citizenship. All 52 reported complainants disputed the Government’s claim that they were ineligible for citizenship under the regulations, and many filed appeals with the Ministry of Interior.”