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Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - Page updated at 12:01 A.M.
Appeals court gives Syrian family another chance
By GENE JOHNSON
The unanimous ruling from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was a major victory for the Hamoui family of Edmonds, which has been fighting for the right to stay in the United States for the past decade.
"It touched my heart," Safouh Hamoui, the father of the family and a former pilot in the Syrian Air Force, said at a news conference.
"I feel like I could fly right now," added daughter Nadin. "I get to say I am almost an American."
Judge William Canby Jr. wrote for the panel that the Board of Immigration Appeals abused its discretion by denying the family relief under the Convention Against Torture, an international treaty which prevents countries from deporting people to places where they are likely to be tortured or killed.
The court ordered immigration officials to reopen their case and give any relief required by the treaty.
Three of the family's five members Safouh, Nadin and mother Hanan Ismail were taken from their home Feb. 22, 2002, and brought to a federal detention center in Seattle because they ignored a 2000 court order to show up for deportation, following the advice of their previous lawyer. Two other children are U.S. citizens and thus are not subject to deportation.
Ismail and Nadin Hamoui were released in November 2002 and Safouh Hamoui was allowed to go home the next month while their case was appealed.
The family came to the United States in the early 1990s. They overstayed their visa and then sought asylum, arguing that Safouh and possibly other family members would be tortured or killed if they returned.
Safouh, now a grocer in Edmonds, claimed that he had been interrogated three times by the Syrian government once in 1982, when he spoke out against the war in Lebanon; once when his wife enrolled in English classes; and once when he had trouble landing a plane carrying Syrian government officials. He was accused of trying to crash the plane, he said, and that's when he decided to leave.
The family suffered from a combination of bad legal representation and unfair rulings by immigration officials, the appeals court panel found.
The local Arab American Community Coalition rallied behind the family, and celebrated today's ruling.
"It's great, great news," said coalition member Rita Zawaideh. "The family is hopeful their struggle against the Immigration and Naturalization Service, now the Department of Homeland Security, will finally come to a real conclusion."
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