If it was a less important gathering, a drizzle of rain might have kept people indoors. But the weather, which turned gloomy March 28 after a short streak of sunshine, didn’t deter nearly 100 people—some with tears thicker than the rain—from gathering outside of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) building at 815 Airport Way, S. to protest the detention of the Homoui family.
On Feb. 22, Safouh Homoui, his wife Hanan, and their daughter Nadin, who are from Syria, were taken at gunpoint by FBI and INS agents. They are currently being detained at the INS building. The Homouis other children, including a young son who is an American citizen, are being looked after by an uncle.
According to supporters of Homouis, the family members were arrested under the new absconder initiative put out by the Secretary of State, John Ashcroft. Civil rights groups say the absconder initiative “blatantly targets Muslims, Arabs, South Asians and East Africans.”
However, Garr Ison Courtney, public affairs director for the INS, said the Homouis were arrested because they failed to report for deportation in August 2000. According to the INS, the Homouis came to the United States on a tourist visa and attempted to gain permanent resident status. When their appeals were denied, the Ninth Circuit Court ordered them to be deported.
“The Homoui family are not terrorists or criminals. Arab does not equal terrorist,” said Rita Zawaideh, of the Arab American Community Coalition (AACC) who organized the protest.
“I am sure that this is or was Arab American profiling,” said Bernice Funk, who was hired by the AACC to represent the Homoui family. “The Homouis are law abiding people and they have worked very hard to follow the rules.” Funk said that the Homouis were following bad legal advice when they failed to report to the INS in August 2000.
The INS, however, maintains that the Homouis’ arrest has nothing to do with racial profiling or the terrorist attacks giver that they were set for deportation nearly two years ago. In addition, Courtney said that the INS does not control whether someone is deported or not. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Courtney said, “and if a spoke group or an attorney says something, people take that as the truth. If the Ninth Circuit Court orders the INS to detain someone, that’s what we must do. But that is not our decision.”
Speaking on behalf of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), chapter president Arlene Oki said, “It is wrong that a law-abiding family is being kept in confinement and faces possible deportation. It is wrong that the INS and FBI would break into someone’s house with guns drawn, take the parents and older sister away in the dead of night just because they are Middle Eastern immigrants. And it is wrong that two children would have to witness their father, mother and sister being taken away from the family home.”
An immediate concern is that Hanan suffers from Crohn’s disease. She was recently hospitalized overnight but was taken back into detention despite her doctors recommendation that she be released for further medial evaluation and treatment. According to the AACC, she is not receiving proper medical attention in the INS jail. The INS said that there is a physician on duty at the building.
Zawaideh also said that the Homoui family faces a very real possibility of torture and death if they are deported to Syria and that the United Nation’s conventions clearly prohibit deportation of immigrants and refugees to any country where their lives might be endangered.
The INS, however, maintains that the danger to the Homoui family may be over exaggerated. A part of the appeal process, said Courtney, is to determine if the applicant does indeed face any real danger should they be deported and in the case of the Homouis, no such danger was determined. Nonetheless, supporters of the Homouis insist that the danger is real and that they will not be happy until the family is released.
“We are demanding the release of the Homoui family. They are not a flight risk and pose no danger to our community,” said Pramila Jayapal, director of the Hate Free Zone Campaign of Washington, an organization that was formed to combat racial profiling after the 9-11 attacks.
For now, the Homouis have filed an appeal for a stay, but their future in the United States is uncertain.