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Global Relief Foundation Assets Seized as Chairman Is Arrested on Visa Violation
By Roxane Assaf
But is this a case for the FBI or the INS? Conyers posed the question in several ways. In his Jan. 3 letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft and the INS, Conyers asked for the names of those who were permitted to attend Haddad’s hearing. “I tried to go into the courtroom,” he explained to the Washington Report, “but I wasn’t permitted. After getting through a number of barriers, I got to the door, and they said my name wasn’t on the list.”
In the letter, Conyers expressed his amazement: “When the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee—the committee having oversight responsibility for our immigration laws and our courts—is not permitted to attend such a hearing in our court system, it seems to me that something is very wrong with the system of justice in America.”
Conyers also inquired why Haddad was denied bond, and whether the detainment had any link to Haddad’s relationship with the Global Relief Foundation, which the FBI had seized on the same day Haddad was arrested. The congressman asked if the government intended to admit classified evidence in immigration cases, in violation of President Bush’s promise that “secret evidence” would not be used.
Perhaps Conyers’ letter was lost in the mail. “I have not received a response,” he said. “I have heard through the media that it was an immigration violation,” Conyers added, “but this is being handled as a criminal proceeding.”
Fellow Michigan Rep. Lynn Rivers, whose district includes Ann Arbor, agrees. “We are seeing some strange things, even for an INS hearing,” she said. “Having them closed is not only arbitrary, but it is also not supported by precedent. The first hearing was closed. [At] the second hearing, people weren’t even allowed into the building.”
Normally, if a hearing is closed for national interests, it is closed only during the presentation of evidence.
Having sponsored an interfaith Town Hall Meeting at which the eloquent Haddad spoke in favor of religious tolerance, Rivers attests to his beloved status in the community. She considers him the victim of an attitude shift in the current administration, which espouses the idea (not supported by Supreme Court case law, she adds) that non-citizens do not enjoy equal rights under the law. Citing the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, she makes the point that those protections are granted to “persons” in this country and not “citizens.” Not surprisingly, Rivers attributes the marked change to the attacks of Sept. 11.
“We have two universities in our district,” she noted, “so we deal with immigration issues for people from all over the world. Traditionally, when a person has applied for an extension or new status, the INS has considered them compliant.”
However, Pastor Haddad, as he is called, is not considered compliant. Delivering Friday sermons at local mosques, volunteering as an Islamic studies teacher, and having a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Nebraska proffer no benefit to Haddad’s immigration status. Nor, surprisingly, does his having applied for a change of status on his expired tourist visa, pursuant to the Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act of 2000. Three INS agents arrested Haddad in his home in front of his wife, daughter and three sons. Mercifully, the agents waited until he was out of their sight to apply the handcuffs. Not so mercifully, they confiscated his computer, which contained the only copy of his doctoral dissertation.
“When he was arrested, I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Haddad’s wife, Salma al-Rushaid, said in a statement to the press. “The timing was even worse: This was just before our holiest day of the year. I have never heard of nonviolent people being arrested at such a time. Law-abiding people are given the chance to turn themselves in. He would have done so if told. We came to the U.S. because of the great freedom we enjoy here. One of my children is a U.S. citizen, and we want to naturalize. Rabih and I want to stay here. We have found mutual peace and trust in our new country. Our kids miss him so much. Rabih, if you can hear this, we are strong. But do what you have to do. We are with you, and the community is with you.”
The community is indeed with the Lebanon native. Supporters and peace activists held a candlelight vigil in front of the Ann Arbor Federal Building. Thousands signed a petition. The judge received 60 letters requesting his release. For the hearing, hundreds packed into chartered buses, only to be literally barred from the door. The Ann Arbor City Council passed a resolution urging the federal government to adhere to the laws of due process for Haddad and all U.S. residents.
Despite his wife’s public statement, it is doubtful that Haddad heard her assurances. Initially residing with the other prisoners in the Monroe County Jail, where television was available and socializing possible, Haddad later was moved to solitary confinement “for his own safety,” reported his lawyer Ashraf Nubani skeptically.
Deemed by Immigration Court Judge Elizabeth Hacker as a “danger to the community,” Haddad himself is the apparent threat. “INS agents always ask for weapons,” explained Nubani. “When they came into his house, Rabih gave them his hunting rifle. We showed the judge licenses, subscriptions to hunting magazines, pictures of him and his sons in hunting gear. He bought the gun at K-Mart.”
That and a blank criminal record, however, were not enough to erase the mark of menace. The judge denied bond. “When a judge is determining bond, he/she looks at the criminal record,” said Nubani. “His record is clean.”
The judge also determined that Haddad was a flight risk. “Where is he going to flee to?” Nubani asked incredulously. “His family is here.”
Nonetheless, Haddad’s detainment is indefinite, and proceedings have begun for his removal from the U.S.
As for the judge: “She’s a veteran, and people say she’s fair,” Nubani said. And he was impressed by her pleasant, even vulnerable, style at Haddad’s first hearing. By the second hearing, however, that had changed. “Someone had tainted her,” speculated Nubani. The Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), he explained, issues directives in high-security cases instructing the judge as to how hearings should proceed—closed in this case—and how to respond to the press—“no comment.”
“But no reason was given as to why this was one of those designated cases,” said Nubani.
So why was Haddad denied bond? Perhaps being dubbed a flight risk was sufficient. Other indicators, however, point to his prominence on the board of the Global Relief Foundation (GRF). The Illinois-based organization is registered with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as a private nonprofit organization providing relief, education, development and religious programs to needy people in Kosovo, Chechnya, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Kashmir.
In mid-November, GRF’s lawyers filed a defamation suit against ABC News, the Associated Press, The New York Times, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Daily News for statements linking the charity with terrorist groups. At that time, GRF celebrated the fact that federal authorities had not frozen its assets, as it had other Muslim-based organizations’. Curiously preceded by questioning calls from the press, the GRF was seized on Dec. 14, the same day Haddad was arrested. Attorney Roger Simmons immediately began working to clear GRF’s name. “Rob Nichols [of the Treasury Department] said we could get our assets back if we could prove our innocence,” said Simmons. “Of what?!”
Haddad later was moved to solitary confinement “for his own safety.”
Simmons has requested an apology from President Bush for his part in what he considers a ruse. “Once you say you have evidence, you waive any investigative privilege,” the attorney insisted. “You have to show it. They haven’t got a scrap of evidence, and they’ll never get it.”
FBI media representatives in Washington, DC, Detroit and Chicago all refer questions about Haddad’s detainment to the INS. According to the Chicago representative, the search and seizure warrants issued out of Washington, DC against GRF were “just part of an investigation” and that “no arrests have been made.” Beyond that, he said, he could not discuss a pending case.
The Detroit FBI spokesperson first refused to acknowledge any connection between Haddad’s detention and the seizure of GRF’s assets, but finally conceded, “It’s true. He is affiliated with the Global Relief Foundation, which has been ID’d by the Department of Treasury as having supported terrorist groups.”
When asked if providing relief to the widows and orphans of suicide bombers constitutes supporting terrorism (as has been alleged in other cases), she replied that only the attorney general could determine what is and what is not terrorism.
Attorney Nubani said that an INS official he spoke to told him the timing was coincidental. “They’re playing an evil game which is to detain him on the same day they freeze the assets,” Nubani complained, “but they say there’s no connection.”
The INS told Nubani they had gotten word of Haddad’s status two months prior to his arrest, and that it is not unusual for the agency to take that long to follow through. The agent claimed to have discovered the breadth of the case while listening to National Public Radio, Nubani said.
Justice Department Public Affairs Specialist Dan Nelson reported that 460 individuals have been charged and detained for immigration law violations as a result of investigations since Sept. 11. The charges would be put before an immigration court judge in accordance with due process, he said, but it is “not uncommon for another law enforcement agency to investigate the background and criminal history of an individual while in INS custody.”
Nelson said he was not at liberty to discuss methods and procedures.
Meanwhile, from his jail cell Pastor Rabih Haddad has written an open letter to “Lady Liberty” via the Ann Arbor News. “You don’t know me,” he begins, “but I am one of your forsaken sons....Little did I know that I would be persecuted in your name, and little did you know what your children were doing behind your back, some wittingly, but most unwittingly. They are afraid, my dear Lady, and fear almost always begets hate.”
Nonetheless, the prisoner implores his muse to “Continue to be the beacon of hope and oasis of prosperity for so many.”
On Jan. 17, federal authorities transfered Rabih Haddad in secrecy to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago to testify before a grand jury on the charge that the GRF provided funds to terrorists.
Roxane Assaf is a free-lance writer based in Chicago.