The brother of a jailed Palestinian man whose children and pregnant wife are being held in a Texas jail says he will stage a small protest with his 3-year-old niece Friday morning outside the San Antonio offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at 8940 Fourwinds Dr.
"I am an American citizen, and I know what America is made of," said Ahmad Ibrahim, speaking by telephone Wednesday afternoon. "America is made of good people."
Ibrahim will take the family’s case to the streets, asking for release of his niece’s three sisters, teenage brother, and pregnant mother–all of whom have been held in jail since their midnight arrests on Nov. 3.
Marc Jeffrey Moore, San Antonio field office director of the Detention and Removal Office for ICE, referred all questions from the Texas Civil Rights Review to the ICE public affairs office, which has not yet returned our call.
Ibrahim said he had just heard from Moore’s office Wednesday afternoon that applications to renew the family’s passports from Jordan had been denied, and they would have to wait another month in jail while ICE contacted the Israeli embassy.
Ibrahim was skeptical that Israel would be forthcoming with the needed travel approvals, and anyway, he said, it would be dangerous for his brother’s family to present Israeli travel papers as their documents for re-entry to Palestine.
"Either deport them, or fix their status," said Ibrahim. Either way, he says, they should not be in jail.
"We are not poor. We have family, a home, and money." Ibrahim said that he and his family in Palestine would do whatever is needed to take care of the jailed family as soon as they are released.
"We will meet them at the airport terminal with tickets, if that’s what it takes," he said.
Ibrahim says he was with his brother some 18 months ago when an immigration lawyer called to apologize for missing a filing deadline regarding the family’s asylum. And he says a ruling on the case is still pending.
The brother, Salaheddin Ibrahim, was separated from his family, and is being held at another jail.
Ahmad Ibrahim says his 5-year-old niece shares her cell with her pregnant mother, Hanan Ahmad, while the 7- and 12-year-old girls share a cell with each other. The 15-year-old boy is in a third cell. All of them are incarcerated at the T. Don Hutto jail in Taylor, Texas.
Ibrahim says the 5-year-old gets into trouble with guards during population counts that are taken four times daily. She is supposed to sit still for the counts, but she doesn’t.
"She is a very active child," explains Ibrahim. He says reprimands from the guards sometimes bring the little girl to tears.
One chilly morning, says Ibrahim, the girl wrapped a blanket around her as she walked out of her cell, but a guard told her that the blanket didn’t belong to her.
"It’s my blanket!" answered the little girl.
The 7-year-old has also been upset to the point of tears, because she cannot sleep in the same cell with her mother. At 10:00 p.m. the 7-year-old is ordered to the cell she shares with her 12-year-old sister.
Showers for the women are provided every morning at 5:30, but at least on one occasion, says Ibrahim, the pregnant mother was feeling sick and tired, so she asked not to go. A guard reportedly threatened the mother with disciplinary action that would include separating her from the 5-year-old, so the mother took the shower as ordered.
With four girls and one boy already in the family, Ibrahim said that his brother paid a fertility expert $7,000 to ensure that a boy would be born this time, so they are "99 percent" sure that the next child will be a boy.
Meanwhile, Ibrahim holds a letter of suspension for the 15-year-old boy, who has missed too many days of school. Except for the 3-year-old, all the other children were attending schools before they were jailed by ICE.
"He’s holding the whole thing together," says Ibrahim of the 15-year-old. "He calls me every day."
Ibrahim says he is composing a letter to First Lady Laura Bush.
"This is a small immigration violation, and an attorney could fix this easily," he says. "They are not a threat to society."
Plus, he says, it would be cheaper for the government if the family were allowed to live outside the jail. A report in the Sunday Sun of Williamson County said ICE is paying $95 per day per inmate for imprisonment services provided by Corrections Corporation of America at the Hutto jail–a cost of $14,000 per month for the five family members held there.
"I have never myself heard of anywhere in the world where this kind of thing happens," said Ibrahim. "Jailing a mother with her children is very demeaning.
Ibrahim’s protest will be the fourth in two weeks related to the Hutto jail. On December 14, South Texas businessman Jay Johnson-Castro began a 35-mile walk to the jail from the Texas Capitol. On December 16, Johnson-Castro joined a vigil at the jail sponsored by Texans United for Families. On Christmas Eve, Flamenco artists Teye and Belen performed for a dedicated group of protesters in inclement weather.
All three actions have received some coverage from corporate media, but the story of Palestinian families has yet to be mentioned in that coverage. Stories and editorials usually assume that the jail is filled with detainees who entered the country "illegally." At least two Palestinian families being held at Hutto jail entered the USA legally with visas, say their attorney, but they have run into legal difficulties securing asylum. In both cases, the men have been separated into different jails from the women and children at Hutto.
"Don’t forget that being a Palestinian in this period of history is truly being the weakest of the weak," adds Ibrahim. "Since you don’t even have a country, like 99.9 percent of the whole earth, to ask about you, or to defend you, or help you with your basic needs.
"And people such as Marc Jeffery Moore–instead of going after the terrorists and the criminals–he is going after some children and mothers, not caring about the image of our great America."
GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.