Former SP runner faces deportation

Published 12:12 am Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A former Spain Park track and field captain and his mother sit in a Jena, La. jail cell facing deportation.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents posed as Hoover police officers when they detained Imad Mohammad, 18, his mother Sana, and father Mohammad at their Hoover home Jan. 12 at 6:30 a.m.

The three were picked up on warrants of an invalid visa, while Imad’s five brothers and sisters were left behind, including 17-year-old brother Amin, a Spain Park offensive lineman.

The family was allowed one adult to return home as guardian of the five children and decided that Mohammad would return in order to run his Hoover cell phone business to pay the bills and provide for the family.

Imad is housed in a cement-floored, cinder blocked-room of 93 prisoners.

“I’m being told they’re just going to hold me until they find a place to deport me or until 90 days are up, and they have to let me go,” Imad said in a collect phone call from prison Monday.

Both Imad and his mother have citizenship by birthright in Palestine, but are unable to return due to the current conflict with Israel in the Gaza strip. Imad was brought to the U.S. by his parents on a visitation visa following the Gulf War and they were granted a temporary asylum to remain in the country.

“They have no home; they have no passport. They have no travel documents to any other country,” said the family’s immigration attorney, Douglas Cooner.

Cooner has filed for an emergency stay with the Board of Immigration Appeals and a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Federal District Court in Birmingham, claiming that the Mohammads were detained unlawfully. A federal judge has given the U.S. government a deadline of Jan. 29 to show just cause for detaining the pair.

“The government is under perfect rights to let them go under supervised release until we find a country that will take them, which history has shown probably will not happen — especially with five U.S. children citizens,” Cooner said.

Cooner said the family’s request for asylum was denied in 2005, but a renewed asylum request was filed and is still pending. Attempts to reach the regional Immigration Field Office in New Orleans for comment Monday were unsuccessful.

Imad, currently a freshman at Jefferson State Community College, is looked up to and loved by his peers and teachers at Spain Park, according to track coach Michael Zelwak, who is still in shock.

“This was the young man who was trying to make the most of every opportunity given to him,” Zelwak said. “He was going to go to school and pursue his dreams, and it’s all be interrupted. It’s very heartbreaking.”

While Imad and his mother enter their fifth day at the Louisiana facility, teachers at Spain Park High School and Berry Middle School, along with other friends of the family are writing letters to U.S. senators and representatives to draw attention to the Mohammad’s case and encouraging students to write Imad in Louisiana. Imad said the letters he has already received, filled with “I love yous” are helping him.

“I’m holding up the best I can,” Imad said. “I don’t want to break down because my family will break down too. If I start complaining and crying then my dad is going to start getting more antsy. If I’m strong, they’re strong.”

The strength helps him not break down, despite having his only issued towel and change of clothes already stolen by other inmates.

“I’m learning a lesson, even though I don’t deserve to learn it,” Imad said. “You can’t trust anyone. You have to keep an eye on what’s yours and on everything around you.

Imad said another thing he has learned in the past two weeks is that he wants to consider becoming an immigration attorney when he finishes school.