ICE releases Palestinian family

Five members of a Palestinian family jailed by immigration authorities in Texas since November were released on Feb. 3, a day after the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) accepted to reopen their asylum case. Salaheddin Ibrahim, his wife Hanan Ibrahim, who is five months pregnant, and four of their five children had been detained since a Nov. 2 raid on their home by ICE agents. Hanan Ibrahim was jailed at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, together with the couple’s 15-year-old son Hamzeh and daughters Rodaina (14), Maryam (8) and Faten (5). Salaheddin Ibrahim is held at a separate facility in Haskell, Texas and had not been released as of Feb. 4. Three-year-old Zahra Ibrahim, a US-born citizen, has been cared for by her uncle, Ahmad Ibrahim, since her parents’ arrest. The family’s plight stirred media and public attention, and at least three protests were held outside the Hutto facility during their detention there. (Dallas Morning News, Jan. 31, Feb. 4; WFAA-TV, Feb. 1)

On Feb. 1, New York lawyers Ted Cox and Joshua Bardavid filed writs of habeas corpus on the family’s behalf in federal district courts in Dallas and Austin, arguing that the government has no legal basis to detain the family and that their detention harms the “psychological, emotional, and mental health of all petitioners.” “The government will have three days to explain why they are in detention,” Cox said. (AP, Feb. 2) The habeas suit charged that Hanan Ibrahim had not been provided appropriate medical treatment, and that she had been forced to remain standing on several occasions despite her complaints of fatigue or pain. Visits to an OB-GYN doctor involved a two-hour drive, and she was kept in arm and leg shackles for the duration of her physical exams. (Austin-American Statesman, Feb. 2)

The Ibrahims arrived on valid visas from the West Bank in 2001, and were denied asylum and ordered deported in 2003. Attempts to reopen their case were denied in 2004 and 2005. Their temporary Jordanian passports have expired, and they have been unable to get permission from Israel to return to the West Bank. Lawyers for the Ibrahims sent letters to 54 countries asking each to accept the family. (DMN, Feb. 4) On Feb. 2, the family’s Dallas attorney, John Wheat Gibson, announced that the BIA had agreed to reopen the family’s asylum case. “I have never heard of the Board granting such a motion for Palestinian asylum seekers before, even though many people have tried,” wrote Bardavid later on Feb. 2. “I believe that the pressure put on the government by the actions filed in the federal courts, the media attention… and good work and thorough preparation of Mr. Gibson in his motion on behalf of the Ibrahims resulted in this outcome.” (The BIA decision was apparently based, at least in part, on changed country conditions: the election of Hamas—a group designated by the US as terrorist—to head the Palestinian Authority.) (Texas Civil Rights Review, Feb. 3)

Dallas businessman Ralph Isenberg, who earlier in January won a 14-month battle to bring his deported wife back to the US from China, helped win the release of the Ibrahim family by bringing Cox and Bardavid onto the case. Isenberg said the hundreds of other children still jailed inside the Hutto facility need to be freed. “You do not lock children and mothers that are pregnant up in the United States of America—that is not what this country is about,” he said. (WFAA-TV, Feb. 4)

Earlier in the week of Jan. 29, Ahmad Ibrahim picked up mail from his brother’s apartment and found that one of the girls had written a letter to herself from detention. “I guess that was all she could think of doing, because there’s nothing else to do there,” he said. “She just wrote things like, ‘How are you doing?’ and ‘How was school today?'” (DMN, Jan. 31)

From Immigration News Briefs, Feb. 4

See our last posts on Palestinians and the immigration crackdown and the Ibrahim family case.