SAN DIEGO — An immigration judge Monday refused to drop charges of illegally entering the United States against the 19-year-old daughter of Bahraini royalty who used forged documents to elope with a Marine.
The decision by Judge Ignacio Fernandez means that to stay in the United States, Meriam Al-Khalifa will have to prove she qualifies for political asylum because her life would be in danger if she returns to Bahrain.
The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service is seeking to deport Al-Khalifa. No date has been set for the next hearing, although Al-Khalifa's attorney, Jan Bejar, has asked for a delay of at least 90 days.
Bejar said he is prepared to present evidence that Al-Khalifa would suffer persecution if returned to Bahrain. "This is not just a case of 'Daddy will be mad at me,' " he said.
Al-Khalifa and Marine Lance Cpl. Jason Johnson, 25, were married in November, two weeks after taking a commercial flight from Bahrain to Chicago. To fool airport security, Johnson devised a phony Marine Corps identification card and travel orders for Al-Khalifa.
Bejar had asked that the charge of entering the country illegally be dropped so that his client could apply for permanent resident status as the wife of a U.S. citizen.
The case of the Marine and Bahraini sheika--whose father is a cousin to the ruling emir of the island nation in the Persian Gulf--has attracted worldwide attention, including announcements of support from feminist groups and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)
In leaving Bahrain, Al-Khalifa defied a Muslim code that prohibits a young woman from dating a man without the approval of her family.
A spokesman for the Bahraini embassy in Washington said Al-Khalifa's family loves her and has promised that no harm will come to her if she returns.
Johnson, based at Camp Pendleton, has been demoted from lance corporal to private first class.