ICE Detains Teacher Who Faces Death Sentence In Egypt

"It’s very unclear why this happened. What we’re trying to find out at the moment is what the actual basis is for this," Abd al-Basit’s lawyer said.

An Egyptian educator was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents last week, and if deported faces the death penalty in his home country. 

Ahmed Abd al-Basit, who teaches physics at the Islamic Rising Star Academy in Union City, New Jersey, found seven plainclothes immigration officers waiting outside his apartment in Jersey City last Thursday. They ushered him into an unmarked car and took him to the Elizabeth Detention Center.

Abd al-Basit arrived in the U.S. two years ago looking for asylum after he was expelled from the University of Cairo, where he organized nonviolent protests. He was sentenced to death in absentia by an Egyptian military court after being convicted, along with more than two dozen others, of terrorism charges.

Abd al-Basit applied for asylum after arriving in the U.S. on a visitor visa and was authorized to work while his request navigated the asylum system. HuffPost reported that he was told in April 2017 a final decision on his case would be sent in the mail. Only after being detained outside his apartment was Abd al-Basit notified his case would be processed in immigration court.

“It’s not clear why they would feel the need to detain somebody who has no criminal record in the United States, who has been living a very law-abiding life here and has been doing everything correctly. It’s very unclear why this happened. What we’re trying to find out at the moment is what the actual basis is for this,” Abd al-Basit’s lawyer said.

In a previously published report, Human Rights Watch said the military court did not offer the men a fair trial and used torture to force the defendants to confess.

A document published last year by the human rights organization detailed the problems with Abd-al Basit’s conviction.

"Abd al-Basit, one of the cell's two alleged founders, is mentioned only once in the indictment, in a section that summarizes the confession of Ghazali, the cell's purported leader, and states that (Ahmed Amin) Ghazali admitted to receiving an unidentified amount of money from Abd al-Basit. The prosecution's file contains no evidence of this money transfer. Defense lawyers stated in court that all the defendants renounced their confessions and said they had been obtained under torture. Abd al-Basit, who was expelled from Cairo University in 2015 for organizing peaceful protests against the military's removal of former President Mohamed Morsy and human rights abuses by the security forces, and who lives abroad, told Human Rights Watch that he believed Ghazali had mentioned his name under torture because they knew each other from the university,” the report said.

Abd al-Basit’s students have started a website and petition to raise awareness about his detainment and advocate for his release.

Although Trump has said he was empowering ICE to crack down on illegal immigration to improve the country’s internal security, immigration officials have used the president’s authorization to target individuals who don’t pose a threat to the country’s safety. The federal government has prohibited individuals fleeing violence in Central America from entering the country without documentation, raided 7-Eleven stores employing undocumented immigrants, and rendered requests for asylum more difficult to attain. Acting in the name of protecting American civilians, the president has authorized policies that endanger individuals who fled violence and persecution in their home countries.

Banner/Thumbnail Credit: Courtesy Bryan Cox/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via Reuters

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