ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An Iraqi man ordered to pack a bag and report Thursday to a federal immigration office in Albuquerque chose not to appear and instead sought sanctuary at an undisclosed location.
Hundreds of supporters of Kadhim Al-bumohammed clapped and cheered outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Albuquerque after his attorney, Rebecca Kitson, announced that her client planned to stay with a local faith community she did not identify.
Al-bumohammed, 64, had been expected to report to ICE officials early Thursday where he potentially faced detention and deportation to Iraq. ICE notified Al-bumohammed earlier this week to pack a bag and “report for removal” at the federal agency.
“At this time, Mr. Al-bumohammed, after consulting with his family and with other members of the faith community, has chosen to seek sanctuary with the faith community,” Kitson told supporters over a megaphone. Her client’s poor health drove his decision to seek sanctuary rather than surrender to ICE, she said.
“It has not ever been Mr. Al-bumohammed’s intention not to turn himself in,” Kitson said. Al-bumohammed will disclose his whereabouts to ICE officials by letter, she said.
“His choices are motivated in part because he has lost faith in the ability of our government to protect him, especially in detention, and given his very fragile health condition,” she said.
Al-bumohammed has a variety of serious health conditions, including limited kidney function and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which requires him to use supplemental oxygen, Kitson said. He must take several medications daily, she said.
The Iraqi man has lived in the U.S. since 1994. His wife is a naturalized U.S. citizen, and he has four U.S.-born children.
“I’m really happy that I get to keep my dad,” his daughter, Courtney Al-bumohammed, 17, told supporters. “We’re going to keep on fighting this. We’re not going to stop.”
Relatives and supporters contend that Al-bumohammed would face persecution in Iraq because he aided the U.S. military during the Persian Gulf War in 1990-91, and later taught language and cultural awareness at military bases in California.
For years, Iraq had refused to accept deportees. But in March, Iraq agreed to begin accepting deportees in exchange for being taken off the list of countries on President Trump’s travel ban, triggering an ICE roundup of hundreds of Iraqi immigrants they say have criminal records – including Al-bumohammed.
In 1997 in California, he was convicted twice of misdemeanor domestic violence charges without serious injury.
An ICE spokesman in Dallas alleged in a written statement Thursday that Al-bumohammed was convicted in 1996 in San Diego of assaulting a police officer. His failure to report on Thursday makes him “an ICE fugitive,” it said. Kitson could not be reached late Thursday for a response.
Al-bumohammed’s case caught federal attention in 2004 when federal agents found his misdemeanor violations and flagged him for deportation. Al-bumohammed lost three rounds of appeal to stay in the country and was ordered deported in 2010. But Iraq wasn’t accepting deportees, so he was allowed to stay as long as he checked in annually, which Kitson said he has. He was scheduled for his annual check-in in September.
The next step remains uncertain. Al-bumohammed’s wife and eldest son have applied to regain his legal status in the U.S. as an immediate family member of U.S. citizens, Kitson said. Their intent is to reopen his case before the U.S. Immigration Court, she said.
On Tuesday, a federal judge in Michigan halted the deportation of all Iraqis pending a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of about 1,400 Iraqis nationwide.