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Hamoui family members win their freedom
Stop racist detentions

By Ellie Fingerman | December 13, 2002 | Page 2

PUBLIC PRESSURE played the decisive role in ending the nine-month ordeal of Syrian immigrant Hanan Ismail and her daughter Nadin Hamoui, who were finally released from detention center in Seattle on November 18.

The two were arrested with their husband and father, Safouh Hamoui, in February, when they were labeled "alien absconders" by the federal government. Some 300,000 people like the Hamouis, whose visas have expired, have been rounded up using the "absconder" rule. Outrageously Safouh is still being held.

At a press conference celebrating their release, Hanan and Nadin described their ordeal. "I have Crohn's disease," said Hanan. "It gets worse with stress and without the proper diet. They wouldn't even give me a banana, which I need for potassium."

Hanan had to go to the emergency room 11 times throughout her detainment. "For me, nine months is like nine years," 20-year-old Nadin said. "A whole year of my life has been lost."

Two of the Hamoui's children, who are 13 and 15, were left at home, and weren't allowed to visit their parents in jail. "We just want to know, why would people hate us so much, to do this?" 13-year-old Mouha asked.

Organizing on the part of community groups, such as the Arab American Community Coalition, was critical to gaining Hanan and Nadin's release. Weekly pickets were organized, and a coalition of many different groups came together to bring the story of the Hamoui family out into the open. As a result, the Immigration and Naturalization Service district director decided to release the two, claiming "humanitarian" reasons.

However, the whole family still faces the threat of deportation. Since the Hamouis moved to the U.S. in 1992, they've tried to file for political asylum. Safouh faces certain persecution if he's deported.

Activists plan to build upon this recent victory and fight for Safouh's release and defend the civil rights of all immigrants.

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