For three painful months while his brother’s family was imprisoned by USA immigration authorities, Ahmad Ibrahim, a United States citizen of Palestinian heritage, kept his faith that “the people of America are good people.”
But Ahmad did not know that the one good American who would finally orchestrate the dramatic release of the family had himself been exiled by USA immigration authorities to China. So Ahmad’s faith in America had to hold strong from the beginning of November through the sacred Eid ul-Adha season of early January, until the exiled American could return.
On January 8, when Dallas real-estate developer Ralph Isenberg landed in Dallas from China with his wife and infant daughter, the wheels of the Ibrahim family release were soon to roll.
On or about January 10, New York immigration attorney Theodore Cox sent Isenberg an email, asking if he’d heard about children imprisoned by the federal bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“Essentially, I’d had my run-in with immigration,” explained Isenberg over the telephone Friday night. “My wife had been detained at the immigration prison in Haskell, Texas, deported with our 3-month-old daughter to China, and I had to leave my adopted 16-year-old daughter in America in order to live with them and fight for their re-entry.” That fight lasted 14 months. “So I knew how lovely ICE could be.”
Following up on the email from Cox, Isenberg says he “looked at pictures of the kids in prison, found out it was in Texas, and I just went berserk. You do not imprison kids in Texas, the U.S., or anywhere. No, no, no, no, no. Goodness gracious, kids in prison? Give me a break!”
As a big-city real-estate developer, Isenberg knew the difference between wishing and doing, so he got busy grinding out results. By Jan. 26, Ahmad Ibrahim had a brand new friend and two new lawyers. How could anyone know that because of these things, release of his brother’s family was only one week away?
This past Thursday, Feb. 1, attorney Cox and his colleague Joshua Bardavid filed habeas corpus motions in federal courts of Dallas and Austin, stating shocking facts about the treatment of mother Hanan Ibrahim and her four children. The children sobbed uncontrollably at times. Hanan had been denied pre-natal vitamins for her pregnancy. Trips to the doctor were 8-hour ordeals during which the children back at jail fretted and cried. Hanan was placed in shackles for medical transport. She was torn between her children and her health care.
When Cox and Bardavid walked into the federal court building in Dallas, accompanied by Ahmad Ibrahim and his tiny niece Zahra–who had been separated from her family and placed into her uncle’s care–they were greeted by a half-dozen television cameras, a lobby full of reporters, and a phalanx of federal marshals. Whatever went on next between the legal professionals in those closely-guarded chambers of the Dallas federal court changed everything very quickly. Freedom for the Ibrahim family was only 48 hours away.
On Friday afternoon, Dallas attorney John Wheat Gibson sent out a jubilant email titled “Amazing Grace.” The Bureau of Immigration Appeals (BIA) had caved overnight. Suddenly, after years and months of denying Gibson’s pleas in behalf of the Ibrahims, the BIA reversed course completely. Gibson’s November 2006 appeal for the family’s asylum would be considered. And if the family was now eligible for asylum, then there could be no legal basis for their imprisonment. “Now there is no excuse for the Gestapo to keep the children in prison any longer,” wrote Gibson.
“I have never heard of the Board granting such a motion for Palestinian asylum seekers before, even though many people have tried,” wrote attorney Bardavid Friday evening. “I believe that the pressure put on the government by the actions filed in the federal courts, the media attention . . . and good work and thorough preparation of Mr. Gibson in his motion on behalf of the Ibrahims resulted in this outcome.”
“It’s the Declaration of Independence for the Palestinian people,” said Isenberg in a giddy mood Friday night. “We got the American government to blink!” How can he help but mention that he is proud of this achievement? How can he help but reflect that he is a son of Holocaust survivors?
“Every group goes through that period when they are treated with discrimination and then one event breaks the pattern. From now on the American government will no longer treat Palestinians as terrorists, but as humans. And I would hope that American citizens are realizing that if we continue to take away the rights of foreign nationals in an indiscriminate fashion, we are next.”
Meanwhile this Friday night, Jay Johnson-Castro, faithful organizer of three vigils outside the Hutto prison, promises to send photos of three ugly walls that stand between the USA and California: “I mean they are ugly ugly.”
It is past dark now and he stands upon a mass grave at the Holtville Cemetery near San Diego, where border crossers are buried who don’t make it over alive. “They are found dead and turned over to be buried.” It’s not the only mass grave at the border. There will be more to visit as the Marcha Migrante II Border Caravan begins its trek from San Diego to Brownsville and back.
“They say women are brought here in the middle of the night to do the burying,” says Johnson-Castro. “The federal government contracts with Imperial County to pay the city to bury these people, and nobody knows who they are. These are totally anonymous people who died as a result of our pathetic immigration system. Nobody is thinking of these people. The bodies are just thrown into the ground and dirt is pushed over them with a blade.”
From Holtville Cemetery, Johnson-Castro will caravan along the border, through the cities of the Rio Grande, making his way back to Hutto prison for his fourth vigil on Feb. 12. The release of the Ibrahim family is great news. But we know there are more Palestinian families in there along with anonymous border crossers and their children.
“We’re going to shut that prison down,” is something that Johnson-Castro and Isenberg have both promised over the phone tonight. In those merging voices, the faith of Ahmad Ibrahim is redeemed.
“I’m just enjoying the day,” says Ahmad Saturday morning, speaking by cell phone from a limousine that is somewhere between home and Hutto prison. The voice of his little niece Zahra chatters in the background. “It is a good day.”
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.