The retrial of Imam Qatanani

The good fight continues: The retrial of Imam Mohammad Qatanani

Dr. Aref Assaf is Spokesman for Imam Mohammad Qatanani and Media Chair of Americans for Qatanani.

Since 1999, the US. immigration authorities has, for a variety of reasons, denied Imam Qatanani's petition to become a permanent resident. The 47 year old Imam has since 1996 served as the spiritual leader of the tri-state’s largest Muslim mosque, the Islamic Center of Passaic County. Over a year ago, a Newark Federal Immigration, in a much publicized trial, ruled in favor of the Imam. In his 71-page ruling, the judge dismissed the government’s case as "patently incomplete" and two federal agents’ conflicting testimonies as "not credible." Consequently, the government sought an appeal from the judge’s opinion. Because of the government's appeal, the case is headed back to court as a result of split opinion by an the Board of Immigration Appeal. The opinion denied part of the government’s appeal and remanded the case to the Immigration Judge saying that he did not give sufficient weight to the government’s evidence.

At the May 2008 trial, the Department of Homeland Security, DHS, had sought to link Imam Qatanani, a Palestinian who emigrated from Jordan to the US in 1996, to Hamas, which the US classifies as a terrorist organization. The linkage was one of many tactics the DHS employed justifying and confirming its denial of residency status. We successfully argued against the government’s assertions justifying its deportation proceedings. In the course of a five-day trial transcribed in over 1000 pages, we proved that the government’s case was baseless and weak on both evidence and credibility. The judge who heard expert testimonies from both sides ultimately agreed with our position.

After ten months of review by the government-appointed Immigration Board, A 12-page written opinion was transmitted on October 2, 2009 to the Imam’s lead attorney, Claudia Solvinsky. As the document states: the appeal was “sustained in part and dismissed in part;” and it returned the matter to the same judge for “further consideration of the evidence of record, for the submission of such additional relevant evidence as appropriate, and the entry of a new opinion.”

The Americans for Qatanani,(A4Q) the national grassroots that supports the Imam, views the Appeals opinion as bittersweet development and only as a small detour in the Imam’s pursuit of the becoming a proud and a contributing American citizen. We had hoped the Appeal’s opinion to be completely in our favor, ending years of agony and uncertainty for the Imam, his family and the entire Muslim community. Notwithstanding, we remain confident of the facts that compelled the immigration judge to render a favorable ruling. We are ready to again defend the Imam, demonstrate the irreplaceable values he has come to represent, and loudly proclaim the Imam’s message of moderation, proactive and participatory citizenship only furthers the nurturing of America’s ideals, America’s promise and America’s future.

By agreeing with the Government’s position, we find the Appeals Board, contrary to the precepts of our judicial system, to have engaged in the guilt-by-association travesty: Because my brother-in-law is thief does not mean that I am also a thief, for example. Moreover, the split opinion portends utter misunderstanding of the gross human rights violations so endemic to the Israeli military occupation and the military court system employed.

We strongly disagree with the Board's assertion that confessions obtained through coercion or without reasonable and transparent judicial oversight, as admissible evidence in an American court. The Board unambiguously states that criminal records submitted by the Israeli military courts, which govern the occupied Palestinian territories, need not meet basic evidentiary requirements. This conclusion clearly violates due process, the right counsel and the absolute inadmissibility of torture-induced confessions. These facts, we argue, have effectively diminished the Board’s mandate of fairness and equality before the law.
A closer look at the opinion confirms our assertion that the members of the Board gave little weight to the lengthy brief submitted by the Imam's legal team. While we could count no less than six specific references to the government's brief, we found no reference agreeing or even acknowledging ours. Are we correct to assume that the Board's mandate was not to impartially find fact but rather supporting a politically-motivated policy of Islamophobia?
From the beginning, the A4Q has always asserted that the Imam’s immigration hurdles have serious local, national and international implications. Politicians and community leaders of differing persuasions have outspokenly demonstrated the merits of the Imam’s case.

We believe it would be a task to find an immigrant who has done more for his community and for state and federal authorities than our Imam. Steadfastly, Imam Qatanani has advocated tolerance and understanding between all faiths ever since his arrival in 1996. In the dark days after 9/11, Qatanani reached out to members of other faiths and to the FBI and other agencies. His leading work was critical to helping Muslims, law enforcement and the larger community mitigates the uneasiness and the tensions that emerged.

The A4Q, which successfully brought the Imam’s case to national and even international attention, will again lead the effort to support the Imam. The community has taken ownership of the Imam’s case and views its satisfactory conclusion as a defining expression of its religious and civil rights. Our limitless faith in the profound justice of the Imam’s case is matched equally by our unyielding trust in the endearing qualities of our justice system.

The Imam and his supporters remain optimistic the truth shall again be affirmed in court and, if appealed again, to be sustained in higher courts.. It is a noble goal worth fighting for. We shall keep Imam Qatanani among us as our spiritual leader and our guiding light.

Related: Press Release

Background info of the case may be obtained on the web at http://www.qatanani.com/site/ and also at http://www.aafusa.org/story_and_the_fate_of_imam_m.htm

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About Dr. Aref Assaf

Dr. Aref Assaf has a doctorate in Political Science and International Law. He is president and founder of American Arab Forum, AAF, a non partisan think-tank specializing in advocating positive image of the American Arab community. Dr. Assaf was also a founding member of ADC-NJ Chapter and has served as its media chair for five years before serving as its president in 2004. He was also elected and served for one year as Board Member of the American Palestinian Congress. Dr. Assaf serves on and is a member of several state, national boards and academic organizations. These includes the American Society of Political Science and the American Society of International Law. Dr. Assaf is currently serving a second three-year term as a member of the New Jersey Governor’s Ethnic Advisory Council. His selection was the first of its kind for an Arab American to serve on this statewide council. Dr. Assaf writes frequently in several New Jersey papers about contemporary American Arab issues and perspectives. He has appeared on many television programs such as CBS’ Sunday Morning, CNN in addition to metro TV stations. Dr. Assaf is available for speaking engagements without any honorarium.

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