Saturday, June 05, 2004

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: AP - Latin America/Caribbean: Woman deported to Venezuela finds support

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: AP - Latin America/Caribbean: Woman deported to Venezuela finds support


Saturday, June 5, 2004 ยท Last updated 3:30 a.m. PT

Woman deported to Venezuela finds support


VALENCIA, Venezuela -- Two months after she was deported from the United States, Amina Silmi can't stop thinking about her three young children and wondering whether she will ever see them again.

Rather than take the American-born children with her into a life of almost certain poverty in Venezuela, a place they have never been, Silmi chose to leave them in the care of her sister in Ohio.

"Each day I get more desperate," Silmi said in an interview with The Associated Press at her lawyer's office.

"I go to sleep thinking of my kids and I wake up thinking of them," she said, dissolving into tears.

U.S. immigration officials say Simli's deportation was justified because she had long been an illegal resident. But the case outraged the Muslim community in Cleveland, the city she considers her home.

Now Venezuelans are also taking up her cause, agreeing with her that an inflexible application of immigration laws broke up a family.

A local attorney has donated time to her case. Strangers have given her a place to stay in this drab industrial city. And the Roman Catholic archbishop of Valencia is lobbying the U.S. government to reconsider.

All this in a country she hasn't called home for years.

Silmi, 35, was born in Venezuela to Palestinian immigrants but has spent the last 14 years in the United States.

She moved to New York with her family in 1990 on a temporary visitor's visa. She married a legal immigrant, but the marriage lasted less than a year.

She soon married again, this time to another legal immigrant she met while visiting her sister in Cleveland. In 2000, she learned her husband had two felony convictions. He was deported in December to the West Bank, and she was ordered to surrender.

Silmi is barred from returning to the United States for 10 years for failing to obey a 2001 order to leave. She arrived here March 31 - knowing no one - and spent her first night in a park.

Ohio supporters wrote a flurry of letters to U.S. immigration officials. And Silmi has found new supporters in Venezuela.

Luis Eduardo Gallo, a Valencia attorney, is helping her apply for humanitarian parole, a benefit granted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under circumstances of extreme hardship.

Gallo believes Silmi qualifies because her youngest child is autistic and can't get adequate care in Venezuela. He also argues it's unfair to force three American children to choose between their mother and their country.

Valencia's Roman Catholic archbishop, Monsignor Jorge Urosa Savino, has also met with Silmi and is pressing the U.S. Embassy in Caracas on her behalf.

"We understand there were legal reasons to deport her, but we are appealing to the humanitarian aspect," said Jeanette Marquez, director of Venezuela's chapter of the Catholic charity Caritas. "Bringing her children here would only mean making them endure hunger."

In Washington, Homeland Security spokesman Bill Strassberger would not comment on Silmi's chances of obtaining humanitarian parole.

"It's unfortunate," Strassberger said. "We see this sort of thing every day where people who stay in violation of the law ... ultimately have to face the consequences of a decision they made, whether it was one year or 12 years previously."

Karen Meade, Silmi's attorney in Ohio, acknowledged it's a long shot. "But it's all she's got going for her right now," Meade said.

Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich introduced a bill to grant Silmi legal residency - a last-ditch effort to delay her deportation that has virtually no chance of approval in the Republic-dominated Congress.

In Venezuela, Silmi is at the mercy of the kindness of strangers. She has no relatives in a country she hasn't seen in more than a decade. After searching for several days, she found a family whose oldest son once knew her deceased brother.

They offered her shelter in Valencia, where Silmi spends her days helping with the cooking and cleaning.

Motherhood has been reduced to a couple of phone calls each week to the Cleveland suburb where her sister is raising her children: Haiat Awad, 12; Fida Salti, 6; and Belal Salti, 5.

Jamila Jabr, a day care worker, also has four children of her own.

"These kids are American. They are accustomed to their language, and they are used to their lives here," Jabr said. "I don't want to send them to Venezuela so they'll be more confused. I can't."


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