Hazahza Report: Speedy Hearing Gives Supporters Hope

By Greg Moses

The Hazahza family writ of habeas corpus has been assigned a speedy hearing Friday morning in the Dallas Federal Magistrate Court of Judge Stickney, and family supporters are standing by to meet any needs that may arise.

This is how things looked in early February when habeas writs were filed for the Ibrahim family, so there is reason to hope that we will see the Hazahza family follow the Ibrahim precedent into freedom.

“The fact that the Magistrate is moving so quickly on the writ is very positive,” says Ralph Isenberg by telephone from Dallas.

“We hope that the Judge will give the government a deadline,” adds New York attorney Joshua Bardavid via email, “to either release the Hazahzas or to provide a written response to our habeas by providing the legal justification for continued detention.”
Five members of the Hazahza family remain in the Rolling Plains prison at Haskell, Texas. Two other members of the family were released in early February from the T. Don Hutto prison at Taylor. In the case of the Ibrahim family, it took about a week to set all of them free following the filing of the habeas writ. The Ibrahim mother and children were freed within days, but father Salaheddin was put through a bond hearing prior to his release from Haskell.

“I would hope that the government would be as willing to work with the Hazahza family as they were with the Ibrahim family,” says Isenberg. “And being personally aware of the condition that Mrs. Hazahza is in, it would be a tremendous humanitarian act on the part of the government to render the decision they are entitled to.”

Isenberg says a family support network is standing by to address the needs of the Hazahza family, just as the needs of the Ibrahim family are being attended.

Thanks to a report on conditions at the T. Don Hutto prison released this week by two immigration watchdog groups, the prison-like conditions of the facility have received wide coverage. Attorney Bardavid is scheduled to join one of the authors on Friday’s edition of Democracy Now!

“These kids remain traumatized,” says Isenberg about the families that have been released. “And its going to take a lot of work to help them recover from what has happened to them at Hutto.”

“If the Congress of the United States would take the lead of their colleague Eddie Bernice Johnson as to how awful these conditions are, they have the power to enact a private bill that would get the status of these families adjusted immediately,” said Isenberg. “So I would encourage everyone to write your Congressperson, because the only real apology for these families is not just asylum, but citizenship. That’s the way to say we are really sorry for what we did.”

With the prospects of Hutto prison already looking dimmer by the day, a reliable source tells us that the San Antonio office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened an inquiry into the facility for allegations of civil rights abuses and questionable billing practices.

Meanwhile an Abilene-to-Haskell walk and vigil next week will call attention to the Hazahzas and other immigrants being imprisoned in the Governor’s home town. Jay Johnson-Castro calls it the “Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free” walk and vigil.

And Isenberg is publicly offering help to people he has only read about, such as the pregnant Iraqi woman and the 9-year-old Canadian child that have been reported to be held at Hutto.

“We are identifying other key cases that we can take on,” he said. “If the Canadian government wants our help in releasing that 9-year-old boy, I have been offered pro bono legal arrangements in his behalf.”

*****ARCHIVE: DALLAS MORNING NEWS*****

Mom of detained immigrants desperate for family reunion

But she’s losing hope that they’ll all be together

12:00 AM CST on Thursday, February 22, 2007

By ERIC AASEN / The Dallas Morning News
eaasen@dallasnews.com

Life for Nazmieh Juma Hazahza changed forever one morning in November when federal immigration agents stormed her Irving apartment, woke up sleepy family members, placed guns to their heads and ordered them out.

Her family was split up and sent to different detention facilities. Mrs. Hazahza and her youngest son, Mohammad, were recently released from the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Taylor. But the rest of her family – her husband and four children – remain locked up.

Attorneys for the Hazahzas filed a writ of habeas corpus to order the family’s release from the Rolling Plains Detention Facility in Haskell, near Abilene.

Mrs. Hazahza hopes that they will be together one day. But she’s long on pain and short on hope.

“This exact moment, there’s not 1 percent of hope,” she said through a translator this week. “There is no life without hope.”

Immigration officials have been facing criticism for how the Hutto center is run, particularly that children have been kept at the facility. The government has denied the abuses, saying the criticism is unfounded and based on limited anecdotal information. The White House last week defended the use of the Hutto center.

The Hazahzas were arrested through a program that targets people who have ignored deportation orders, said Carl Rusnok, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman. Mr. Rusnok wouldn’t comment Wednesday on the writ or details about the family’s status.

The Hazahzas were one of three local Palestinian families arrested during Nov. 2 immigration raids, among a number of “fugitive aliens and immigration status violators.” One of the North Texas families, the Suleimans, has been deported to Jordan. The Hazahzas and the other family – the Ibrahims – have been living in limbo, in and out of detention.

Even if the Hazahzas are released, Mrs. Hazahza will be in mourning.

Her son Bassam was fatally shot by Irving police last summer. Police have said the teenager was driving a stolen car when he backed into a detective’s car. He then drove toward an officer, who opened fire, killing Bassam, police have said. The officer had told him to stop.

Family members think Bassam was influenced negatively by friends, and they weren’t aware of a criminal record. The Hazahzas say that what happened to Bassam is a separate issue and shouldn’t influence what happens to the family.

Immigration officials have stated that one of those taken into custody included Ahmed Hazahza of Irving, thought to be a son of the Hazahzas, who was convicted as an adult in three burglaries and received a 10-year probated sentence.

Reza Barkhordari, who is engaged to one of the Hazahza daughters and is acting as a family spokesman, said he was unaware of any criminal charges against Ahmed Hazahza.

Better life

The Hazahzas, who are Jordanian and Palestinian, say they’re a peaceful family. They arrived in the U.S. with visas in 2001. They say they were working hard in jobs and school in the hopes of living a better life.

The family applied for political asylum because it had a “well-founded fear of persecution if returned to the Palestinian Territories on account of an expressed political opinion,” the writ states.

It also states that the father, Radi Hazahza, was accused by Palestinian militant factions of being an Israeli collaborator.

An immigration judge ordered the Hazahzas be removed from the U.S., the writ states. But the family says it didn’t receive an order to report for detention or removal. The Hazahzas say no country will take them. They’ve been unable to obtain travel documents to leave the U.S.

From fiscal 2001 through 2005, only two Palestinian asylum cases were granted nationally, according to Department of Justice statistics.
Twenty-eight were denied.

The family wants to stay in the U.S.

The Hazahzas had plans to move into a house when they were sent to the detention centers. One of the daughters was planning to get married.

For now, life is on hold.

Mr. Barkhordari has spent several months helping facilitate communication among the family. He has written government officials, with little success. He’s had to find lawyers.

He is taking care of Mrs. Hazahza and Mohammad, 11.

“These people have ruined lives,” Mr. Barkhordari said of immigration officials.

Mrs. Hazahza said she suffered from back and neck pain while in the detention facility. She said her dental pain was so bad that she couldn’t eat at times. She didn’t receive medical checkups and was only given over-the-counter pain medicine, Mr. Barkhordari said.

Mohammad said he suffered from verbal abuse from immigration officers and felt he was picked on because of his ethnicity.

Dallas-area members of CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, are aware of the detention centers and have been trying to raise awareness, said Asma Salam, a member of the group’s local board of directors.

“We’re just trying to support the families in detention and find out what are the exact reasons they’re detained,” she said.

About 15 people protested in front of the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service office on Stemmons Freeway in Dallas on Wednesday, demanding the shutdown of the Hutto center. They also called for immigration reform.

Among the protesters were former state Rep. Domingo Garcia and Elizabeth Villafranca, head of the Farmers Branch chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

They plan to protest every week.

Other complaints

The Hazahzas who are still detained say they’ve had an uncomfortable experience.

Ahmed began urinating blood after being detained, and his requests to see a doctor were not answered for 10 days, the writ states. The daughters, Mirvat and Suzan, ran a fever for weeks but didn’t receive medical attention.

Not much food that’s appropriate for Muslims to eat is available, the writ states. The family has been mocked by guards while praying and threatened with “the loss of the privilege of prayer,” the writ states.

The Hazahzas at the Rolling Plains Detention Facility have had little contact with one another, the family says.

Family members say they feel lost. The father, Radi, appears dazed when he stares at a wall in his room at the detention center.

For Mrs. Hazahza, the pain is deep and raw. Family members say she’s been depressed.

Family may be a couple of hundred miles away, so, for now, there are pictures to remember happier times.

“I’m very heartbroken,” Mrs. Hazahza said. “The fact that I’m the mother, I put the family together. The next thing, I couldn’t do that.

“It’s so hard for anyone to be away from their families.”

Staff writer Paul Meyer and Isabel Morales of Al Día contributed to this report.

Editor’s Note from the Texas Civil Rights Review: news of Ahmad’s criminal record was reported in the Nov. 3 press release from the Dallas Immigration and Customs Enforcement and has been treated in previous postings here. We noted for example that the ICE press release presents a photo of Ahmad and mis-represents his age at the time of arrest, identifying him as an 18-year-old, which is a very curious error considering that within days of the press release, Ahmad was placed in solitary confinement as a 17-year-old juvenile at the adults-only Haskell prison.

The Dallas Morning News is the first to report on the police shooting that killed one of the Hazahza boys, although the family has shared this information openly with us as part of the background documentation of the case. We have until this time decided not to raise the issue, and would have wished that if metroplex journalists were going to surface the incident at this crucial juncture, complete with the police account of things, that they could have been a little more thorough in connecting the obvious dots. They could have quoted Ahmad’s opinion about that shooting, taking the quote directly from the archives of the Dallas Morning News (pasted below). Instead, the image of our first impression from the ICE press release of Nov. 3 and the DMN story of Feb. 22 is “smear Ahmad.” We prefer to quote the writ:

Although Petitioner AHMAD was convicted of criminal acts for which he received probation, these were non-violent offenses committed as a minor, which do not fall within the narrow exception of “exceptionally dangerous individuals” envisioned by the Supreme Court in Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678 that could justify continued detention. Moreover, these acts were not stated as the basis of continued detention by
Respondents.

On Friday the Magistrate Judge is expected to ask the authorities one more time: what is the legal basis for arresting Ahmad Hazahza, one day posting his picture on the web as an adult, the next day sending him as a juvenlie into solitary confinement, and for every day since that time denying him the company of his brother or father, despite repeated claims by ICE that “families are kept together”? And the answer we hope for is: this has gone on long enough. Let Ahmad, his older brother, his two older sisters, and his father go home already, where Juma and Mohammad are waiting.–gm

*****ARCHIVE: DALLAS MORNING NEWS*****

Teen’s death raises questions

Irving: Family seeks details of events that led police to shoot him

05:46 PM CDT on Saturday, September 2, 2006

By KATHERINE LEAL UNMUTH / The Dallas Morning News

IRVING – Bassam Hazahza’s love of cars got him into trouble one last time Tuesday night.

Police said the 16-year-old was driving a stolen car when he backed into a detective’s car. He then drove toward an officer, who opened fire, killing Bassam and wounding his 15-year-old best friend. The officer had told him to stop.

Sobbing, Radi Hazahza questioned why police shot his son.

“He loved driving cars,” he said, shaking his head. “I want to believe it’s just a dream. In a few days he will be back.”

Several people close to the family said Bassam had a criminal record for similar incidents, but police could not provide details because he was a juvenile.

Irving police spokesman David Tull said the officer involved in the shooting is on administrative leave, pending a criminal and internal investigation, which is standard procedure. He said the officer has four years of experience.

The other teen will face auto theft charges. He has not been named because of his age.

Car called weapon

While Bassam’s family said the young men had no weapons, Officer Tull said the car was a deadly weapon.

“When you’ve got a car that’s coming at you that’s already struck something, I think that’s cause for alarm,” he said.

On Tuesday evening, police went to the Hillcrest Apartments off Walnut Hill Lane when they learned of two stolen cars in the parking lot. Police watched as two men took items from the cars and drove off in a third vehicle.

They were stopped and arrested. Then Bassam and his friend got into one of the remaining cars.

The officer was standing outside his vehicle at the west driveway to the apartment complex as they drove toward him, according to police reports.

“The patrol officer was outside his car trying to get them out, telling them to stop,” Officer Tull said.

Doubt and anger

Community activist Anthony Bond questioned the officer’s actions and said many young Muslims are angry with police. He said he was told there is video footage of the sh

ooting from cameras mounted in the police cars.

Bassam’s family did not learn of his death until 1 p.m. Wednesday.

“My mom fell down on the floor outside,” said Hisham, 22. “I was thinking, ‘This is a mistake.’ ”

Family members said they have many questions about what happened. All said they wanted only justice for Bassam.

“It wasn’t necessary to shoot him like that,” said his brother, Ahmed, 17.

Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd met with the family Thursday.

On Friday, the family said goodbye to Bassam in a service at the Islamic Center of Irving. Irving police directed traffic. Women and men packed the mosque.

Mr. Hazahza, his wife and six children moved from Jordan to the U.S. nearly seven years ago.

School officials said Bassam withdrew as an eighth-grader from Sam Houston Middle School in January 2005. His family said he was hoping to return as a freshman at MacArthur High School.

Moving forward

It has not been an easy back-to-school week in Irving.

The week before school, Nimitz High freshman Fernando Garcia, 15, was shot to death while sitting outside his apartment with his sister and friends. Three teens with gang ties were arrested.

At least two were former Irving High students.

Houston Middle School counselor Melanie Maine went to the Hazahza apartment to speak with teens who knew Bassam. She said no matter the subject, Bassam was laid back, always smiling, quiet at first, then talkative.

She said the shooting was discouraging.

“You’d just like to think you can make a difference,” she said. “But I love these kids. I hope when people see this happen, people realize they’re kids.”

Raed Sbeit, a youth group leader at the mosque, said he hopes the incident motivates Irving to try to focus on preventing other incidents.

“It’s the community’s job to have a support system,” he said. “This is what we need to work on – how can we help these youths?”

E-mail kunmuth@dallasnews.com

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