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Gun Incident May Have Soured Alien's Dream

July 14, 1985|LEE HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

NORWALK — As a teen-ager in his native Cairo, Gamal Mohamed Mostafa had twin dreams. First, he wanted to come to America, and then he wanted to become an American citizen.

The first half of the dream came true. The 29-year-old Egyptian, who came to this country in April, 1977, on a student visa, today runs a gasoline and service station franchise in Long Beach, owns a home in Norwalk and attends Western State University College of Law in Fullerton part time. He even took Martin as his unofficial middle name in honor of Martin Luther King.

But the second half of the dream has yet to come true. He applied for citizenship three years ago and, after passing an oral examination in April, 1984, was told he would hear from the Immigration and Naturalization Service on when to appear for the swearing-in ceremony. He is still waiting. "I answered questions like who is the governor, the President, the congressman representing my district and so forth. I paid my $50 fee for processing all of the paper work. Then I waited. And I waited," Mostafa said in a recent interview.

Mostafa suspects the problem with the INS stems from a 5-year-old incident in which he pulled a gun to protect himself from a tire iron-wielding customer, he said. But he is not sure because, he said, the INS won't talk to him.

In the meantime, he has waited through 14 swearing-in ceremonies that he has attended for his wife, other relatives and friends. He said his wife, a sister-in-law and two friends applied after he did and received their naturalization papers without a hitch.

Has Green Card

It is not that he fears deportation. Mostafa has an alien registration card, commonly called a "green card," which allows him to legally remain in this country as long as he desires.

"I'm not asking for a miracle. All I want to do is be able to vote," Mostafa said.

Ernest Gustafson, district director of the immigration service office in Los Angeles, said it is the department's policy to send a letter to applicants who might have problems that would prevent them from becoming citizens. These people, he said, are given a date to come in and "clear up any matters" that might hold up their citizenship. (Because of a huge backlog of cases it is common for aliens to wait a minimum of three years to be naturalized, said another spokesman.)

There are numerous reasons for not granting a person citizenship, including a lack of knowledge of the American government, an inability to read, speak and write simple English, conviction of a crime or lack of good moral character, Gustafson said.

"There are some problems (in Mostafa's case)," said Gustafson, who initially would not discuss the case specifically. But when he was informed that Mostafa had discussed with The Times a 1980 incident investigated by the police, the director said: "That's one of the problems."

During 1980, Mostafa said, he had a towing service contract with the Long Beach Police Department and had towed an illegally parked car to the impound area. When the owner came to claim it, he refused to pay the $68 fee and chased Mostafa with a tire iron.

Mostafa said he pulled a handgun from his desk drawer and chased the man and a companion away. The two men filed a complaint with the police, saying that Mostafa fired a round while they ran from him, according to a Long Beach police report. Police investigated Mostafa for the crime of exhibiting a deadly weapon. But in the Sept. 10, 1980, police report, investigators said they found no evidence the gun had been fired.

"I was trying to protect myself and my employees. The gun was empty," Mostafa said.

A misdemeanor case was set for trial but, after a number of continuances, was dismissed in January, 1981, for "a lack of prosecution," according to records in Long Beach Municipal Court.

Asked During Interview

Mostafa failed to mention the incident in application papers filed with the immigration service, Gustafson said. Mostafa said he did not mention the incident because he thought he was being asked if he had ever been convicted of a crime. During his oral examination, he said, the examiner asked if he had ever had "any trouble with the law."

He said he related the gun incident and offered to give the examiner a copy of the police investigation. "I was told the INS already had it on file and that she did not have time to read it," Mostafa said. "I wasn't trying to hide anything. I also remember telling the examiner that I had a $32 speeding ticket."

After being contacted by The Times, Gustafson said he reviewed Mostafa's case and determined that Mostafa would be contacted by mail and that a July 23 appointment has been set to attempt to resolve the situation.

Joe Flanders, information officer for the INS western region, said Mostafa is not the only prospective citizen frustrated by delays. Because of a "tremendous backlog," Flanders said, "the minimum wait (for naturalization) had been as long as three years."

Flanders said the INS launched a special task force last year to try and clear the thousands that were waiting to be processed.

"We have reduced the waiting list from an estimated 80,000 down to 30,000 or 20,000 and by the end of the year hope to have it down to zero," Flanders said.

Gustafson said the backlog is being cleared at a rapid pace, with more than 12,000 persons scheduled for swearing-in ceremonies through July and August. Mostafa said he would willingly answer any INS questions.

"I'm not a criminal. I'm not asking for food stamps. I'm not a hijacker. I just want my citizenship," said Mostafa.

"I'm fighting for a principle. They owe me and others, the thousands of others that may be waiting, the courtesy of letting us know what is going on with our papers."

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