“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses
Yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Sameh Khouzam is an Egyptian and is a Coptic Christian. Coptic Christians in Egypt number in the millions but over the years have come under increasing threat from Islamic leaders and the state police. Under threat of torture due to his religious beliefs and his refusal to convert to Islam, Sameh fled Egypt in 1998 and came to the United States. U.S. authorities detained him when he arrived in the United States.
Sameh then spent eight years in US prisons, including York County Prison, while he awaited the outcome of his application for asylum. In 2004, he won a “deferral of removal” under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) (PDF) to stop his deportation, and in 2006, he finally walked free. He has been living in York and working in Lancaster since that time.
In January, the Department of Homeland Security decided to revoke his deferral of removal, which they have the power to do. (Incredibly, a department within the executive branch has the power to overrule a ruling from a federal court, a power that the ACLU opposes.) Under the conditions of his release, Sameh checks in with the government once every three weeks, which he has done faithfully since his release.
Despite knowing that his deferral had been revoked since January, the government just informed Sameh on Tuesday that he will be deported back to Egypt. On Friday. And then they said that they told him on Tuesday so that he would have time to challenge it legally. They gave him 72 hours to challenge, even though they’ve known for four months.
We are urging people to call Senators Specter and Casey and Reps. Pitts and Platts. We are asking them to contact DHS and the Department of State to intervene on Sameh’s behalf. These calls need to be made this afternoon! Congress is not in session, so these Congressmen should be in their home offices:
Senator Specter: 215-597-7200
Senator Casey: 570-941-0930
Rep. Platts: 717-600-1919
Rep. Pitts: 717-393-0667
Sameh’s right to due process has been trampled, and he is under threat of religious persecution in Egypt. An activist friend of ours says, “His life is on the line.”
Update: 3:00pm: We just received word that Sameh received a stay until June 7 from the federal court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Thankfully, there is someone remaining in the government who recognizes the right to due process.
This positive outcome, however, does not detract from the point that DHS’ handling of this situation is seriously flawed. If they made a decision in January to deport him on June 1, the sensible and just action to take would have been to inform him immediately in order to give him time to respond. 72 hours for a response before sending him back to his torturers is not just.
Andy in Harrisburg