Saturday, April 26, 2003

Idaho

Deportation ordered for Saudi student

Betsy Z. Russell - Staff writer

BOISE _ A federal immigration judge on Friday ordered Sami Omar Al-Hussayen deported to Saudi Arabia.

The University of Idaho graduate student's attorneys blasted the move, saying the government clearly doesn't intend to deport Al-Hussayen before his trial on criminal charges that the government alleges are related to international terrorism.

"All they're doing is looking for another way to keep him locked up," said Seattle immigration attorney Robert Pauw. "They're using these proceedings as a way to circumvent the order of the district judge that he be released."

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mikel Williams earlier ordered the Saudi Arabian computer science student released on house arrest to his home in Moscow, while he awaits trial on 11 charges of immigration fraud and false statements. But he wasn't released, because immigration officials then took him into custody on an immigration hold.

On Friday, Al-Hussayen's attorneys thought they were having a bond hearing to see if he could be released on bond, but it turned out to also be a deportation hearing.

"We were completely sandbagged," said Pauw. "This was not an issue that was on the agenda."

Federal immigration Judge Anna Ho ruled that Al-Hussayen violated his student visa by doing paid work for a suspect Islamic charity, and cited a signed check for more than $200 from the Islamic Assembly of North America as evidence.

"I do find the respondent has worked," Ho told a packed room of attorneys, witnesses and reporters, who crowded into a cramped immigration courtroom that seats only 20. "He did not disclose this when he came into this country."

Immigration service Special Agent Jeff Wolstenholme told the court, "I searched every record I could find. I could find no record he was granted employment authorization."

After the judge's ruling, during a lunch break in the daylong proceedings, immigration officials took Al-Hussayen's wife, Maha, into custody and began processing her for deportation. She had been waiting to testify on behalf of her husband.

As she remained in custody into the afternoon, Al-Hussayen became increasingly upset, finally breaking down and prompting a halt in the proceedings.

"These proceedings are extremely stressful for Mr. Al-Hussayen," Pauw told the judge.

Pauw noted that Al-Hussayen, a doctoral student in computer science who had never been arrested before, is being held in solitary confinement in the Canyon County Jail, locked down 23 hours a day. He said the student feared that if his wife also was taken into custody, any testimony she might give on his behalf might bring her retaliation behind bars.

Ho asked federal attorneys why Al-Hussayen is being held in solitary confinement, and Ann Tanke, attorney for the Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the local sheriff made that decision for Al-Hussayen's own safety. The federal government is holding him just as it would any other immigration detainee, she said.

Later Friday, the BICE decided to release Al-Hussayen's wife on personal recognizance. "That was our decision, based on the fact that she has children to look after," said Robert Emery, assistant general counsel for the BICE in Washington, D.C.

The couple have three young sons.

Emery said the wife's immigration status is dependent on her husband's student visa, and the judge found him in violation of that Friday. "Based on her decision, he is no longer lawfully in the United States," he said.

Ho plans to issue her decision in writing within two weeks. At that point, Al-Hussayen could appeal it; Pauw said his attorneys would have to review the order before deciding whether to appeal.

Pauw said, "They're not going to deport him prior to the criminal trial -- they've never given any indication they would try to deport him prior to the criminal trial. There's no reason in the world why they couldn't wait until after the criminal trial to start the deportation proceedings."

Emery declined to comment on whether the government would seek to deport Al-Hussayen before his criminal trial. With the appeal process, he said, "He could potentially be here for a while. ... It's tough for me to predict what is going to happen."

Saudi Arabia has no extradition agreement with the United States, so if Al-Hussayen returned to his home country, he couldn't then be forcibly returned to the United States to face the charges.

The government continued trying to tie Al-Hussayen to international terrorism by showing that he's had contacts with two radical Saudi sheikhs, Salman Al-Ouda and Safar Al-Hawali. The two have been connected to terrorism around the world and could have ties to the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the testimony of an FBI agent at an earlier hearing before Judge Williams.

Tanke said the government has "volumes of evidence" that Al-Hussayen set up Web sites for Al-Ouda and others that "advocate violent jihad against the United States." She also revealed that in an interview with the FBI, Al-Hussayen's wife said her husband had attended lectures given by Al-Ouda.

Tanke asked Al-Hussayen a long list of questions about his associations with the two sheikhs, his operation of Internet sites for them and for various Islamic groups, and whether he supports violence against the United States. On the advice of his attorneys, Al-Hussayen declined to answer all questions, citing his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.

David Nevin, another of Al-Hussayen's attorneys, objected strongly to his client being called to testify.

"He is charged in a criminal case, and it's my belief that it's improper for the government to coerce statements out of his own mouth," Nevin said. "When the time comes, he'll give testimony, but not today -- not before the trial."

Al-Hussayen, former president of the UI's Muslim Student Association, has maintained that he's merely a peaceful student and hasn't supported terrorism.

After a long, emotional day, Friday's hearing was continued until June 4 to deal with remaining issues involving possible bond. The proceeding include testimony from Al-Hussayen's wife and other witnesses.