(Excerpted from ADC Times)
Imad Hamad, a Palestinian refugee residing in Michigan, had until December 15, 1996, to leave the country under a voluntary departure notice from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for allegedly overstaying his student visa from 1980. He has been living in the United States for the past 16 years, is married to a U.S. citizen and is the father of two children who are also citizens.
Imad, who is a Palestinian refugee from Lebanon, is now in default on the deportation notice. He has no valid travel documents to Lebanon and the application process for such documents could take as long as six months. Imad submitted his application on November 12, 1996. Until he receives approval from Lebanese authorities, he is unable to comply with INS' deportation notice.
INS' original deportation order was for November 18, 1996. However, the order was changed to a voluntary departure by December 15, 1996, thanks to the efforts of the Arab-American community and several members of Congress, as well as the media attention generated by the case.
Although INS now claims that Hamad is to depart the United States for overstaying his visa, INS District Director Carol Jenifer cited his "membership in an organization prejudicial to the interests of the United States" as a reason for deportation in a letter to his lawyer dated October 28, 1996. INS alleges that Hamad is affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which is under the State Department's list of "terrorist" organizations. According to the Counterterrorist Act passed into law last April, an individual can be deported for alleged membership in a group identified as "terrorist" by the State Department. The Act, which is objected to by many civil liberties organizations, allows for the use of secret evidence, thus making it impossible for the accused to present an effective defense.
While INS denies that the deportation order is based on the Counterterrorism Act, Imad's lawyer, Noel Saleh, who has practiced immigration law for the past 15 years, said INS was being dishonest. "I can site dozens of people who have had violations much worse than this," Saleh added. "This has everything to do with the anti-terrorism law." INS will not admit that the decision is related to the Counterterrorism Act to prevent civil rights groups from challenging it in court.
Imad met with INS on December 9, 1996. Although the officer in charge of his case indicated that INS was aware of his inability to comply, his request for an extension of voluntary departure was denied two days later. "That way, INS closed all my voluntary options," Imad said. "Now, all that is left is involuntary departure." To prove his willingness to obey the order, Imad bought a plane ticket the next day. "The travel agent thought I was crazy," he said. "I was buying a ticket knowing that no airline would let me on a plane without a visa and proper travel documents." And, of course, no one did. Once clearance is received from Lebanon, INS could then issue a final order and forcibly remove Imad from the country, even though he has never been convicted of any crime. As a member of the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS), he took part in a student protest in 1982 against Israel's invasion of Lebanon. He was arrested and detained for a few hours, but all charges were then dismissed by a court of law. Imad's wife, Arwa, sent a humanitarian plea to President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno. "The machine of justice is turning me into a beggar," she wrote. "My husband has been out of work for the past four months without eligibility for any unemployment. Our savings have dried up. I have turned to welfare assistance."
Imad, who worked for the Arab American and Chaldean Council in Detroit until INS refused to renew his work authorization, has received considerable support from the Arab-American community throughout his ordeal. On November 15, 1996, ADC co-sponsored a fundraising dinner with the Friends & Colleagues of Imad Hamad, a newly-formed ad-hoc committee in Dearborn, Michigan. Keynote speakers included ADC President Hala Maksoud. In press statements, Maksoud warned that "if the decision to deport him stands, it will unleash a plethora of acts that deny the rights guaranteed by the Constitution." "This could be a test case for a constitutional challenge to the ntiterrorism law," Maksoud said. "INS knows that, which is why they are trying to deport Imad Hamad under other pretexts. After 16 years in the United States, he is told that his status cannot be adjusted, which makes o sense. We cannot and will not remain silent in the face of such a gross injustice against a member of our community and his family."