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Judge Denies Young Iraqi's Bid to Join Family

Immigration: Jurist rejects claim that teen will be forced to engage in terrorist activities if he is deported from the U.S.

January 14, 2002|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — He arrived in America just three days before terrorists struck on Sept. 11.

Immediately after landing at Miami International Airport, Doraid Joussef Suleiman declared himself a refugee from the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The 18-year-old's hope was to join much of the rest of his family already living in the United States.

Suleiman told U.S. authorities that he had fled his homeland because the Iraqi government was about to conscript him into the military; if he returned, he said, he would likely be tortured if not killed. U.S. officials examined his case and determined there was indeed a possibility that he might be harmed if he was sent back.

Then came Sept. 11.

Today, Suleiman remains confined at the giant Krome Detention Facility near here. And a U.S. immigration judge--while acknowledging Suleiman's fears--has ordered him deported to Iraq, saying "every country has the right to require its citizens to join the military."

The judge noted that Suleiman used a phony passport to get into the United States and that once he arrived, he lied to U.S. immigration officials about how long it took him to get to America.

No one knows for certain whether Suleiman would still be in limbo if terrorists had not crashed hijacked planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The judge in his ruling did not address any Sept. 11 concerns, and there is no hint in the record that Suleiman was ever considered a terrorist suspect.

In the last four months, hundreds of Middle Easterners have been detained in the investigation of the terrorist attacks. Suleiman is an example of someone from that part of the world who was detained before Sept. 11 and remains in jail.

Indeed, Suleiman, his family and his attorney claim that he is fleeing Hussein's terrorist regime.

The attorney, Hina Askari of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., had high hopes of reuniting him with his family. Now her office is appealing the judge's deportation order from last month. If they lose, he could be gone by February.

"He's a young kid and very brave," she said.

Suleiman's older brother, Fawzi Suliman of Las Vegas, who altered the spelling of his last name after becoming a U.S. citizen, has helped other family members get to the U.S., including their parents.

"He has a job working for me ready for him if he could get to Las Vegas," his brother said. "And if he's going back, he's going back to be persecuted and he's going back to be killed."

In a brief telephone interview, with his brother acting as interpreter, Suleiman said in Arabic that he "really wanted to come to America to be with my family." Asked what would happen if he is forced to return to Iraq, he said, "They will probably kill me because I'm a refugee in the United States, and that's a very good reason that they will prosecute me."

A copy of Judge Kenneth S. Hurewitz's order lays out the case for and against Suleiman and gives the judge's explanation for denying Suleiman's request.

The judge acknowledged Suleiman's fears, but ultimately decided that Suleiman had not proved he would be tortured or killed if he returned to Iraq.

Suleiman told the judge that he was born in Baghdad, never married and has no children. His family are Iraqi Christians, and his parents are permanent U.S. residents.

The youngest in the family, Suleiman left Iraq in 1998 with his parents when they went to Jordan to keep their son out of the Iraqi military. The parents' U.S. residency was approved, and they came to America, while the youth, whose visa did not come through, remained behind with family friends.

He began seeking entry to the U.S. on his own in 1999, applying for U.S. refugee status while still in Jordan, according to his brother, Fawzi. But, he said, "the INS ignored everything he tried and they wouldn't respond to his requests."

The brother said the family finally decided to have Suleiman come here illegally and plead his case in U.S. immigration court. "We thought it would be easier that way."

Suleiman eventually moved to Ecuador, staying with relatives there for six months, and then went to Chile. After two days there, he paid a smuggler named "Maher" $6,000 for a phony German passport under the name of "George Nelson." Suleiman destroyed the document after boarding a plane for Miami. His real passport was left behind with a cousin in Ecuador.

When he walked off the plane, Suleiman declared himself a refugee.

The judge's ruling noted that Suleiman "testified that he left Iraq because the ruling party came to his school to recruit him and others for Hussein.

"Everyone was asked to sign up for what he called 'special forces,' not the regular army. He did not want to sign because Saddam is a terrorist."

Under cross-examination by government lawyers, Suleiman acknowledged none of his older brothers was forced into the military, including one who did not leave Iraq until he was 27.

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