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Family Matters: Ohio family fights against threat of deportation

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Meet Fatiha. She’s a small-town Ohioan with a big problem.

Fatiha Elgharib had a flight booked for Nov. 27, 2017 to Casablanca. Forty-eight hours before her departure, she found out she wouldn’t be making it onboard.

Fatiha was relieved. Her planned trip to Morocco was not one that she hoped to make.

It wasn’t that Fatiha didn’t want to visit her native Morocco, which would include seeing family that she hadn’t seen in several years. But Fatiha’s ticket was one-way, not round trip. The U.S. didn’t want her to come back.

Fatiha was being deported.

In 1996, Fatiha left her native Morocco, came to the U.S. and settled in Englewood, Ohio. She came with her husband, Youssef Hamdi, and two children, Sara and Wafaa Hamdi. The family was initially here on a 10-year visa, but they put down roots in Englewood and were able to legally extend their stay.

“Everything is good from my community,” Fatiha said. “I have never had any problem with them or my neighbor, with the churches or the schools. They are good people and they know us and we know good stuff from them.”

Fatiha says that her family has tried their best to live a normal life, despite immigration issues. She and her husband have tried to retain open forms of communication with the U.S. government regarding their legal status in the country.

“When we came we meant to stay – from the beginning,” Fatiha said. “We went to a lawyer to get a visa for 10 years. We came in here to adjust our status. We have social security, a license…everything. I can drive. We’ve done everything.”

After Sept. 1, 2001, Youssef Hamdi was called in as part of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration program, which called for male non-citizens over the age of 16 from certain Muslim-majority countries to register at an Immigration and Naturalization Service facility.

Youssef travelled to Columbus to register, and Fatiha accompanied him, wanting to defend her legal status in the U.S. This trip resulted in Fatiha’s passport being confiscated.

Soon after Sept. 1, 2001, Fatiha and Youssef welcomed a third child into their family, Sami. He was born a U.S. citizen. He also had Down syndrome and a congenital heart malformation.

With the birth of Sami, staying in the U.S. became a much higher priority for Fatiha and her husband.

Sami relies heavily on Fatiha to get around on a day-to-day basis. Fatiha is responsible for getting him to school, ensuring he takes his daily medication and traveling with him to doctor’s appointments. If she’s not in the U.S. to help him, she doesn’t know what will happen to him.

Provided by Sara Hamdi.

“Nobody knows the kids more than the mom. Nobody,” Fatiha said. “Nobody can take you and feed you and stay with you…I don’t know. I don’t want to think about what would happen.”

Several years later in 2007, Fatiha was approached at her home by agents alleging that she failed to appear at a court hearing. Fatiha claimed she never received notice of a hearing. She was arrested and detained for five months.

Under the Obama Administration, Fatiha was allowed to remain in the U.S. as long as she checked-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) annually. She has met with an ICE officer annually since 2008, and during these conversations, the word “deportation” was never brought up. But in her first ICE meeting since President Donald Trump took office, Fatiha was told that she would soon have to leave the U.S. Immigration officials told her they could not repeat the same cycle of continuing to give her extended stays in the States.

Fatiha was set to be deported on Nov. 27, but she was granted a 30-day stay in the U.S. on Nov. 25. A representative from ICE called Fatiha that morning to alert her, and since then, she has received no further information on the review process for her case or if and when she will have to leave.

The uncertainty has caused Fatiha significant stress and has made her particularly concerned over what will happen to Sami if she is not able to remain in the U.S. and care for him.

Fatiha says it is not possible for her to take Sami with her to Morocco, due to an inferior healthcare system for people with Down syndrome and other health issues.

Lynn Tramonte is the Deputy Director for America’s Voice, an organization working toward immigration reform. She’s been involved in publicizing Fatiha’s case.

“If he goes with her to Morocco, he will be treated as an outcast and potentially die given lack of access to the heart treatments he will need throughout his life,” Tramonte said. “If there was ever a case that was crying out for compassion, this is it.”

In order for Fatiha to legally remain in the U.S., ICE would have to renew her Order of Supervision, which is issued to immigrants who are no longer under physical custody of ICE. In the past, the renewal process has been easy as long as the person has no criminal record, according to Tramonte.

“This year, under Trump, there have been what seem like universal denials,” Tramonte said. “People go in for their annual meeting and come out with an ankle monitor and a deportation date.”

This strategy targets the wrong type of immigrants, according to Tramonte.

“They’re trying to run up their numbers by deporting people who come into their offices voluntarily,” she said. “People who pose a threat to society do not voluntarily go to a meeting with a deportation officer. It’s the good people trying to follow the rules who do.”

ICE maintains that Fatiha can no longer stay in the country legally.

“Over the last decade, Ms. El Gharib’s immigration case has undergone exhaustive judicial review at multiple levels of the nation’s courts, including before the immigration courts, federal appeals courts and U.S. district court,” the field office for ICE cases in Ohio said in an emailed statement. “In each review, the courts have uniformly held that Ms. El Gharib does not have a legal basis to remain in the U.S.”

But Fatiha’s status is currently still in limbo, with ICE reviewing it at this time.

And in the midst of this crisis, Fatiha’s eldest child Sara is battling fears of her own legality in the U.S. She was brought to the States when she was five years old and is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient. DACA allows the children of immigrants to work and live in the U.S., and Sara credits it with giving her a sense of normalcy.

The Trump administration rescinded the policy on Sept. 5, 2017, but delayed implementation of the repeal for six months.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Sara said. “I was hopeful that he wouldn’t end up doing anything like that. I was hopeful that he would have some sympathy.”

Sara travelled to Washington, D.C. with fellow DACA recipients in November to speak with Sen. Rob Portman and Sen. Sherrod Brown. She says that Brown’s office has been helpful since the announcement but that Portman’s office says they are unable to do anything to help.

In the meantime, Fatiha is still trying to do what she’s done since 1996: live a peaceful life in Englewood, Ohio.

“Even with all of the other stuff — this is my country,” Fatiha said.

No date has been set or ticket bought for Fatiha’s deportation. Her family is anxiously hoping that ICE will call back with good news.

It’s a waiting game, but Fatiha is trying not to let it consume her. That doesn’t change the confusion she still has over why the country she’s called home for the last two decades is desperately trying to make her leave.

“We’re trying our best just to give me a chance to stay,” Fatiha said. “I’m a normal person. I’m not harming anybody. Why me? Why my kids?”

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