CAIRO – Seen as a voice of moderation and a bridge-builder between faiths, the spiritual imam of New Jersey’s largest mosque is struggling against government efforts to deport him from the United States.
“This is the kind of person we want here,” Claudia Slovinsky, an immigration attorney of Imam Mohamed Qatanani, told the North Jersey on Wednesday, July 4.
“He is an extraordinarily moderate, popular, civic-minded Muslim leader with his roots in interfaith and living in a civil, multi-religious society.
“You would think the United States would welcome this fellow with open arms,” said Slovinsky.
Qatanani is the imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson, one of the largest and most diverse mosques in New Jersey.
Having a Ph.D. in Islamic study from the University of Jordan, Qatanani migrated to the United States in 1996 on a work visa.
Three years later, the father of six applied for permanent residency in the United States.
But after years of inaction, he was denied a Green Card by federal immigration authorities.
Worse still, US authorities also began measures to deport the Muslim imam in 2006.
US authorities say that Qatanani had links with the Palestinian group Hamas, which is designated by Washington as a terrorist group.
Authorities also say that Qatanani had lied on an immigration application by failing to disclose that he had been arrested by Israel during a visit to the occupied West Bank in 1993.
But the Muslim imam denies ever having links to Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
He acknowledges that he had been detained by Israelis in 1993, but he was never charged.
The Muslim imam has filed a lawsuit against the FBI and the US Customs and Border Protection agency to force the release of any records pertaining to him.
“The defendants have failed to produce even a single responsive document, or provide any other substantive response,” the suit says.
The lawsuit says the Department of Justice and Homeland Security, of which the FBI and Customs and Board Protection are components, have stonewalled his request for records for more than five months.
The suit calls the refusal of to release any records pertaining to him as “a flagrant violation” of the Freedom of Information Act, which mandates prompt adjudication of requests within 20 days of receipt and even faster action, within 10 days, for requests seeking expedited processing.
In 2008, an immigration judge ruled that the Muslim imam should be granted permanent resident status.
But the case was sent back to court after the government appealed the ruling.
A hearing is currently scheduled for Nov. 26.
Qatanani’s deportation dilemma is not the first facing Muslims in the United States.
US rights groups complain that racial profiling has been on the upswing since September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) had said in a recent report that the US is institutionalizing discrimination against Muslim immigrants, illegally delaying their citizenship applications over endless security checks.The US Senate Office of Research had admitted that Muslims, estimated between six to seven million, have taken the brunt of federal powers applied after 9/11.