Dear NileMedia Reader: Since the terrorist assault on New York and the Pentagon, over one thousand suspects and material witnesses have been taken into custody by the government. Most of them are being held for visa violations. As non-citizens, they do not enjoy the same privileges as those of us who are fortunate enough to be Americans. No doubt, over-staying a visa is a violation of the law. In these difficult times one expects the government to be vigilant in enforcing immigration laws. But the government officials charged with enforcing the laws are also charged with dispensing justice. We urge you to read the following article on the case of Samer Bishawi, a young Palestinian man who overstayed his visa. The young man has agreed to be deported as the price of violating the immigration law. But he is innocent of all other crimes and the responsible officials should exercise caution in tormenting individuals because of their ethnic background. The government should proceed with haste to clear the good names of those who have clearly demonstrated their innocence. And they should release them without further delay. To do otherwise, will be perceived as a form of collective punishment. That is not what America is about. Samer Bishawi is a Human being with a very concerned family waiting anxiously for his release. Please do what you can to help this one young man and consider his plight. In these difficult times, we must all exercise good judgment. Above all, we must demonstrate that America is still a country where the rule of law is administered in a spirit of Justice.
Samer Bishawi is a HUMAN BEING.
By Calista Weichel
A Palestinian is currently being held in an American Jail for having an expired visa. He is not a terrorist. He is a human being, named Samer Bishawi. Samer came to the United States 8 months ago. At age 27 he had a B1/B2 Visa. Unfortunately, Samer did not have enough English to understand that a three year Visa from the US Consulate in his Country did not mean that he could stay three years, only that he could travel within a three year period. So, when the agent at the Airport stamped his passport 30 days, Samer did not realize it. Samer was here 8 months. Then he was asked to come home because his mother is sick and another brother was to be married. Their family is close. Naturally, Samer felt he needed to end his stay in the United States and return to his country and family. In his mind, he was leaving over two-years early. He was at once both happy for his brother and very worried for his mother.
He arrived at the airport at the right time, had all of his papers and some gifts for the children of the family. Unfortunately, Samer did not get on the plane. He was arrested for having an expired visa. He went through the ticket process at the desk. Apparently a nervous worker noticed a Middle-Eastern Guy going to take a plane. There was a slew of Immigration officers and FBI waiting at the gate, checking everyone for passports. They took Samer.
He was brought to Oakland Jail in Oakland California. He was assured by the officers who brought him in and other inmates that his stay would be no more that a week or ten days. He was told he would go before the Immigration Court and most probably be deported. He felt a little sad about the deportation and nervous about being in the jail but he felt a little better knowing that it would take a week or so to clear things up.
Well, Samer did go to the Immigration Court and he did get court ordered to be deported. And he was told it would only be one or two days before he is flown back to his country.
Two days went by, nothing. Three, Four, FIve, another weekend in the jail. No one came to take him to the airport and no one had any answers for him.
That is when I stepped in. I began to make the arduous journey through the telephone systems and bureaucracy of Immigration. I spoke to 6 different people in three different states before I reached the Officer in Charge of Samer's Case. I was shocked when i was told that another agency had an interest in Samer, The FBI. They would not say or speculate why there was an interest but all they could say is "we do not want to keep here too..it costs taxpayers a lot of money to keep a person locked up".
Now begins the journey to find the FBI Agent in charge of Samer's case. Again a few States and many people. Finally I found one person who was part of the case. He said he would investigate the matter and get back to me. After a couple days, I got him on the telephone. He said that The FBI has no interest in Samer and as far as the FBI is concerned he was clear to go. He even apologized for having to refer me back to Immigration.
Back to Immigration. What a mess. The FBI agent gave me another officers name to contact whom he spoke to just that day. I called him and left a message. I called again and finally I reached him a day later. He told me that Samer would be leaving in one or two days, any day now. I asked if he was sure and he said that Samer was clear to go. I asked if he could guarantee it and he said well, no. I asked him what if a day or two goes by and Samer is still in the Jail? He said that he would be out next week. But he could talk to me when he returns if samer is not out. This was day 22 for Samer.
I kept having the same sickening feeling. I kept asking myself the same disturbing question. Don't these people care that a man who is certainly not a criminal is being held in an American Jail? I felt that they do not care. What's another week? Well, a week is a lot when you realize that you cannot attend your brothers wedding. A week is a lot when you are a 28 year old man worried about his mother. Is she going to live until I get back? A week is a lot when you are in an English Speaking Jail when you do not speak much english. A week is a lot when you are sitting in jail with no clue as to why you are being detained. Yes a week is a lot.
That evening, I was relieved with the 1 or 2 days. That meant he would leave by Saturday at the latest. I was assured by the Immigration Officer that Samer could be sent over the weekend. Later that evening however, Samer's mother took a turn for the worse and I panicked. I called Immigration to see if it could be speeded up. Please., he needs to get to his mother. I felt at their mercy for Samer.
More Bad News. As I listened to the Immigration Agent, I felt the blood run to my feet. He told me that Samer is not clear and he did not know when he would be clear. This was only hours after the other agent told me 1 or 2 days.
What could I say? He was like a stone to my questions. Sorry, Ma'am I cannot tell you anything more. I called the other agent back. I again left a message. When i finally reached him, he said well, maybe you can contact the district director. Another turn in the Labyrinth of the US Immigration Department. I spoke to a very kind receptionist. She appeared to have some sympathy for Samer. She said she would have someone call me as soon as possible that afternoon.
The afternoon came and went, and so did the night. I called again the next day and she said she gave them the message and that someone would call me. No one did. I then tried to call anyone over the agents. After many explanations and appeals, I was connected to the Assistant Director of Transportation. She knew of Samer's story as she mentioned that his mother was ill. She said she was waiting for word from Headquarters and she would call me back in an hour. She called me back. But all she could say was that she was still waiting for an answer. She said she would call me after the weekend. Another weekend that Samer spends in the Jail. She never called me on Monday. I called her and she was not available. She did not call me on Tuesday, again and again she was not available. I left many messages and she never returned any of them. Finally I asked if she had an assistant. I was put through to him. He apparently thought I was from headquarters because he picked up the phone and eagerly asked me, CAN WE MOVE HIM? I said, "I do not know..can we????" He said the last time he checked Samer was still in the computer. I asked him to check again. He did check and while he was checking he went on and on about another poor man who was released to the US Marshall and was still not cleared by the FBI in the computer. He said "No, he is still on the list" I asked, "what list is that?" He responded, the Safe Harbour List. I said "Ohhh, what can be done?" He said that he did not know but something HAD to be done because "this guy's sister in-law is calling us everyday, hammering us for information on when he can be released". Well, the sister in law is me. Just then His busy superior came in and he said "oh wait, here she is. i will put her on for you".
Nervously I hung up. He immediately called me back, and he apparently realized what he had done and what he had told me and he said, "Oh I was confused. I was talking about another case. Not yours. Samer is clear as far as we are concerned. We have his passport and are waiting only for travel arrangements."
Yes I am sure that there are a dozen Samer Bishawis locked up in Oakland, and that all of them have their sisters-in-law hammering them everyday.
It was then clear to me. It is not about a ticket. It is about a list. A list that virtually no one has heard of. A list that contains Samer's name. A list that the FBI is using to have Immigration hold detainees longer than normal. But not all detainees. Samer tells me about all the different people who have come and gone over the past 34 days. Only Samer stays. Why?
That is the question of the day. of the month. Of the year, for me.
Samer is a good man. I believe his only crime is being a Palestinian during a very bad period.
The "crime" of not understanding his visa was settled three weeks ago.
What is left? A list. And a young man sitting in jail wondering what he did to bring him there.
By the way, I have watched, actually have listened to Samer on the telphone for a month. In the beginning he sounded a youthful, positive and optimistic person. Believing in justice and that the American System will not do wrong by him.
Over the past 34 days, Samer's voice has changed. He has become depressed. He has become anxious worrying about his mother. He has become severely homesick. All he wants to do is to go HOME.
As of last friday, 4 days ago, Samer stopped eating. He is losing his hope. Prior to Friday he had already lost almost 20 pounds in the jail. Every evening he calls and he asks me what i cooked for him that day. I tell him the menu and choke back the tears becasue I can feel his pain and his longing to go back to his home and family.
Samer Bishawi is a HUMAN BEING. He has not deserved this treatment from the United States. He is not guilty. He has not even been charged with a crime. They are just letting him sit in the jail. There used to be laws in this country. Laws against racism. Laws against unfairly detaining people. I remember the President promising us that what happened to the Japanese after Pearl Harbour WOULD NOT HAPPEN AGAIN. Well, guess what folks. It is happening.
Samer is going to die if he is not allowed to go back to his country. And while our agents live their daily lives, not caring about Samer, his mother could die while he is here.
This is a crime.
Post Script: Just ten Minutes ago, Samer telephoned me from Immigration Center in San Francisco. When I heard AT&T and not MCI calling collect, my heart stopped with anticipation that perhaps he was at the airport, getting ready to go home. But unfortunately, he was calling to tell me that he was being transferred to Yuva County Jail, a faciltiy for long term detainees.
My hope in any type of justice is dropping. I finally got in touch with a Lawyer referred to m by the Lawyers Guild special emergency line for people with legal problems related to visas since September 11. The lawyer wants a $1,500.00 retainer and 350.00 per hour. Is this nightmare ever going to end?
Another call to Immigration. Sorry Ma'am it is from above. But we cannot tell you who "above" is.
I feel like I am in a bad dream. I imagine what Samer feels at this moment. He has been told that when you get sent to Yuva, you will stay a long time.
I have nothing more to say at this point except, please. I have no way of knowing at this point what to do. I do not know what to do. I do not know who to call. I do not know anything. I cannot say anything but
Please. Please help Samer go home.