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Ali Al-Maqtari's Story: Freed After Seven Weeks Of Unfair Post-9/11 Detention

by Michael Boyle

Ali Al-Maqtari, a French teacher from Yemen, came to the United States in June 2000 from France, where he had been studying. He visited relatives in New York for a month and then came to visit a family friend in Connecticut. In November 2000, with the assistance of a mentor from a local adult education center, he applied for an extension to his tourist visa. In the Spring of 2000, he visited the local state university and applied successfully for admission to a program that would let him get his certification as a teacher of French.

Marriage and plans

Although his initial plan was to student teach in the United States and then resume his career in Yemen, his plans changed after he met and married his wife, Tiffinay, a United States citizen. They got married on June 1, 2001 and filed a marriage application with the INS Hartford, Connecticut office in August. Tiffinay had been a member of the National Guard in her home state of North Carolina, and after the couple married, she decided to enlist as a full-time soldier. In mid-August her enlistment was finalized and she was told that she would receive final orders and be stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky for at least a year, beginning in mid-September.

On September 12, the local Army recruiting office called Tiffinay to let her know that the recruiting center in Springfield, Massachusetts where she was to pick up her final orders was closed, but that she should go there on September 13 to pick up her orders. A sergeant at the recruiting center spoke to Tiffinay briefly about not wearing a hejab -- a head scarf won by many middle Eastern women -- when she got to base, nothing seemed amiss at the recruiting center. The couple began the two day drive to their new life at Fort Campbell. They had all their possessions packed in Tiffinay's car.

However, when the couple arrived at Fort Campbell on September 15, they found that Tiffinay's picture had been distributed to all the base's gates. They were stopped, separated, and their car was emptied and searched by bomb-sniffing dogs. The couple would not be alone again until November 8.

Interrogation and arrest

Ali and Tiffinay were then interrogated by INS, Army, and FBI investigators for more than twelve hours. Although the Al-Maqtaris cooperated by answering all questions put to them, their interviewers resorted to a host of sordid tricks to try and "psych them out." For example the investigators said that the Springfield, Massachusetts recruiting center had been blown up be terrorists twenty minutes after the couple left for Kentucky. The investigators also insisted that the couple had never made an INS application, that their marriage was fake, and that Mr. Al-Maqtari was abusive.

At 4:00 am on September 16, Mrs. Al-Maqtari was taken to barracks. Although not formally in custody, she had three guards with her at all times, day and night, until she requested and was granted an honorable discharge on September 28. Handmade posters with her photo were circulated around the base, and local television broadcast news about spies at Fort Campbell.

Mr. Al-Maqtari was taken to a hotel off-base, where his room was kept under surveillance. On Monday, September 18, the Al-Maqtaris were taken to the FBI office in Nashville, Tennessee, where they were given polygraph tests. Mr. Al-Maqtari was formally taken into INS custody and given a Notice to Appear, the charging document in removal proceedings. The Notice to Appear and arrest warrant were defective, signed by a deportation officer without authority to issue them. Later the INS substituted corrected copies without serving Mr. Al-Maqtari. The only charge against him was for overstaying his visa. The same day, the FBI called our office and Attorney Maria Labaredas faxed copies of the couple's immigration applications. Mr. Al-Maqtari's deportation officer told him and us that since Mr. Al-Maqtari had told the truth and had a marriage application pending, he would be released in a day or two.

Held without bond

The reality was much different, and harsher. The INS set bond at $50,000, an extraordinary amount for immigration proceedings, where bonds are usually cash bonds. We requested a bond hearing with an Immigration Judge for the bond to be lowered to a reasonable level. We submitted about forty pages of documents corroborating the Al-Maqtaris' story. In the meantime, on September 24, without the required notice to Mr. Al-Maqtari or his attorneys, the INS changed his status to no bond. We also learned that the hearing would be secret, under the authority of an unpublished memo from the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge.

To counter the Department of Justice's efforts to deny Mr. Al-Maqtari a reasonable bond, we began contacting the news media. A few stories appeared prior to his October 1 bond hearing at the Immigration Court in Memphis, Tennessee.

Washington Post, September 28, 2001
New Haven Register, September 29, 2001
New York Times, September 30, 2001

We also requested the assistance of a respected Memphis immigration attorney, Rehim Babaoglu, of Thomason Hendrix Harvey Johnson & Mitchell. As an attorney, he could not be barred from the otherwise-secret hearing. Attorney Babaoglu generously attended all of Mr. Al-Maqtari's hearings at the Memphis Immigration Court.

First secret hearing

The first bond hearing was extremely tense. Mr. and Mrs. Al-Maqtari were closely cross-examined by the INS Trial Attorney and Immigration Judge Charles Pazar for almost two hours. The government presented no witnesses or documentary evidence, but raised the specter of September 11 at length. Both parties' positions are revealed at length in their briefs to the Board of Immigration Appeals, below.

Although Judge Pazar set an impractically high bond of $50,000 and required Mr. Al-Maqtari to report daily to the INS office nearest his house in the event of his release, the INS immediately requested that the Board of Immigration Appeals enter an indefinite stay of the Judge's decision. The Board entered a temporary stay to permit both sides to submit briefs on their position.

Al-Maqtari and INS briefing as a Word document

Win at the Board of Immigration Appeals

The INS submitted a boilerplate affidavit by FBI Agent Michael E. Rolince along with its brief. Like the INS' position at the bond hearing, it raised the sprecter of September 11 without saying anything meaningful about Mr. Al-Maqtari.

Adobe Acrobat document of the Affidavit of FBI Agent Michael E. Rolince, October 11, 2001

On October 30, 2001 the Board of Immigration Appeals dissolved the temporary stay, allowing the Immigration Judge's decision to take effect.

Adobe Acrobat document of the Decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals, October 30, 2001

On Halloween night, CBS Evening News interviewed Tiffinay Al-Maqtari and Attorney Michael Boyle. TIME Magazine reported on Mr. Al-Maqtari's detention in its November 5, 2001 issue. The Boston Globe ran a story on October 29.

As controversy about Mr. Al-Maqtari's detention built, he remained locked up and virtually incommunicado in a segregation unit at a Corrections Corporation of America jail in Mason, Tennessee. He was segregated with the most hardened criminals in the facility "for his own protection" and could call his wife only once a week.

The Justice Department finally concedes

At bond hearings on October 22 and October 25, Immigration Judge Pazar gave the INS two "last chances" to provide concrete negative evidence against Mr. Al-Maqtari. Otherwise, he said, he would significantly lower Mr. Al-Maqtari's bond. A further hearing on October 30 was canceled because of an anthrax scare at the prison. At Mr. Al-Maqtari's final hearing on November 6, the government capitulated. The INS had ended its inquiry and the government stipulated to a $10,000 bond. The government's agreement to a bond was essential because under a new regulation (Adobe Acrobat version of regulation) issued on October 31, the INS could have filed for an automatic stay if it disagreed with the Immigration Judge's decision, effectively prolonging Mr. Al-Maqtari's detention for months.

On November 8, Tiffinay Al-Maqtari arrived in Memphis and posted her husband's bond. The couple have returned to Connecticut, where Mr. Al-Maqtari hopes to teach French. It will probably be about a year before the Immigration Court in Hartford grants Mr. Al-Maqtari's permanent residence application and closes his case.

New York Times, November 25, 2001

Case ends with approval of green card application

On September 9, 2002 an Immigrtion Judge in Hartford, CT granted Mr. Al-Maqtari's adjustment of status application, granting him permanent residence. About a week later, Tiffinay Al-Maqtari gave birth to the couple's first son, Ahmed.

About The Author

Michael J. Boyle practices immigration law with the Law Offices of Michael Boyle, a four-attorney immigration law firm in North Haven, CT. Mr. Boyle is also Chair of the Connecticut chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. He is also Staff Attorney for the unions at Yale University and advises the immigration committee of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union. He is a graduate of Yale, the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, and the University of Connecticut School of Law. Michael Boyle may be contacted at:

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.