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March 11, 2002



For those of you who have not already had the displeasure of reading it, here is Robert Jamieson's column (Seattle PI, March 9) about the Hamoui family. Safouh, Hanan, and their 19 year old daughter Nadin Hamoui, have been in INS detention since the first day of Eid al Adha. They were taken from their home by six armed INS and FBI agents at gun point. The two American born children were left behind. Hanan suffers from Crohn's disease, an excrutiatingly painful condition which you can learn more about at www.ccfa.org/Physician/crohnsb.html.

Unlike others who deliberately evade the law, the Hamouis have tried to the best of their ability to respect the spirit and the letter of the law. In over ten years, they have hired 3 attornies to appeal their request for citizenship. When they received a deportation order in August 2000, their own American attorney advised them not to report to the INS and not to worry about it. Not one of these fine attornies brought up the serious human rights concerns and very real dangers the family would face should they be deported to Syria.

Now, as part of the Absconder Apprehension Initiative, the Hamouis and other Arab and Muslim immigrants are the local targets/casualties of the war on terrorism. In addition to this heinous and blatant racial profiling, the fact remains that the Hamouis are NOT absconders! They are our own, a Syrian-American family (two kids born here, two married here; Safouh and Hanan recently became grandparents), law-abiding and profoundly decent people. They are being treated like criminals.

Mr. Jamieson's columns is the final insult after two weeks of humiliation and injustice. WE SHOULD NOT ACCEPT THIS.

His column mocks the very real concern for their safety in Syria (go to www.shrc.org/english ) and even makes light of Hanan's condition. It ridicules Safouh Hamoui: "I'm American," he told The Seattle Times. "We drink American water. We drive on American roads. When I work my cash register, I represent someone who is a good American and a good Muslim.'Well, not exactly...." Jamieson's column says nothing about the shoddy legal advice the Hamouis got and shows total contempt for the family and their suffering.

Some of us have already called or written to Jamieson about the column, but "some" will not do this time. It is crucial that the entire community responds. We cannot silently accept this witchhunt to be carreid out against one of our own, and then take this slander in silence. We are facing the very real possibility that we will lose this dear family and all we can do now is to stand up for them when others are willing to kick them when they are down.

PLEASE read the column and then tell Robert Jamieson and the PI what an outrage it is!

If you have questions, do not hesitate to contact us.

By ROBERT L. JAMIESON Jr. March 9, 2002

RULES ARE RULES, but sometimes they should be broken, right?
That's the question in the difficult case of Safouh Hamoui, a Syrian man in Lynnwood. His plight was told yesterday in a front-page scoop by the Post-Intelligencer's Sam Skolnik.

Hamoui, his wife and daughter are on the verge of being deported by the INS -- something that will end their American Dream.

Hamoui, 50, came to the United States in 1992 from Syria, where for two years he was a military pilot for that country's president. He first arrived in New York, just months after his wife and two daughters entered the country via Los Angeles.

All were let in on short-term tourist visas.

Time passed. One month. Two months. Six months.

Hamoui applied for asylum for his family and himself.

It took several years, but an immigration judge, in 1997, denied the request and ordered the family to leave the country.

Hamoui appealed.

No, said the Justice Department, which gave the thumbs-down in 1998.

Undeterred, Hamoui, appealed once more, this time to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- the court of last resort.

In June 2000 the court said this: The family had to go.

They were supposed to report to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for deportation.

Instead, they were a no-show.

The family has done well.

Hamoui is a grocer who owns the Seattle Mediterranean Market in Edmonds, where people can buy Arab water pipes, yogurt sodas and lamb sausages. Patrons also enjoy hanging out at the store, which has a television in the corner.

The shop is part of the community's soul.

Hamoui has become a respected voice for Syrians in the region. He is gentle. Kind. The type of man you'd be happy to call a neighbor. A friend.

One of his daughters fell in love with a U.S. citizen and got married; she and her husband now live in California. Hamoui took pride in his new country. Last November, he was interviewed for a story about the Arab community.

"I'm American," he told The Seattle Times. "We drink American water. We drive on American roads. When I work my cash register, I represent someone who is a good American and a good Muslim."

Well, not exactly....

Hamoui's American Dream was built on this: He flouted the law -- until Feb. 22, when the authorities tracked the family down.

Some people are outraged by what happened.

Local Muslim and Arab American leaders say the government's action stems from last year's terrorist attacks. Hamoui and his family, they say, are being singled out as part of "an undeclared war on people from that part of the world."

That feeling is no stretch.

Some people have been wrongly targeted by the government.

Last year, two Somali-owned gift stores in Seattle were raided. The feds wanted to close money-transfer operations linked to Osama bin Laden's terror network; the two shops shared building space with a money transfer operation.

Uncle Sam -- after community and political pressure -- came to its senses and found the store owners were not involved in the transfer deal. The feds returned store items to the two Muslim shopkeepers, who were never arrested or charged.

As for Hamoui, he came to the attention of the INS, a famously beleaguered bureaucracy, because of the Absconder Apprehension Initiative. The measure, launched by Attorney General John Ashcroft after last fall's mass murders, targets 314,000 foreign nationals who have ignored past court orders to leave the country.

The initial focus of the initiative is some 6,000 illegal immigrants from primarily Middle Eastern countries believed to harbor al-Qaida terrorists.

But Hamoui is no terrorist. He isn't a bad guy. He just did a bad thing in evading the law. A relative said yesterday that Hamoui wanted asylum because he had been persecuted in Syria. A friend suggested that Hamoui fled his homeland for economic -- not political or human rights -- reasons.

Whichever the case, his plight brings to mind the story of some guy named Stan who escapes from jail, moves to a small town and builds a grand life. He's hard- working, takes local kids on camping trips and has a great wife and kids. People love him.

Then the past catches up.

Stan's been a lawful and model citizen. But this remains: He's got jail time to serve.

And Hamoui and his family have deportation orders with their names.

Take away Sept. 11 and Hamoui would probably not have come under scrutiny so soon.

Still, the pressure of living a white lie just had to be crushing; it's little surprise that Hamoui's wife has been suffering from stomach ailments.

Barring a miracle, the family will go. Some friends fear that if they are deported to Syria they'll be considered spies because they have been gone so long.

Hogwash! They could have been home much sooner, but they wanted to stay here in America, by any means necessary.

So they broke our rules. Now they have to face the consequences.

No exceptions allowed.

P-I columnist Robert L. Jamieson Jr. can be reached at 206-448-8125 or robertjamieson@seattlepi.com

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