Winona, Minn. — In many ways, it's an all-American scene: a father and mother playing with their 11-month old son. But Wadie Al-Saeed is a Saudi and his American dream could soon come to an end.
Wadie met his wife, Jennifer, while he was a pre-med student at Winona State University. They married in 1997, and Zack was born a year ago, just a few months after the INS denied Wadie's request for permanent residency.
"I was shocked to feel that rejection," says Al-Saeed. "I didn't do any crime, I have no criminal record, I've been good to my wife, and I've done good things for the community."
Back in college, Al-Saeed says he mistakenly checked a box on a job application that said he was a citizen of the United States. The INS rejected his application for permanent residence in October 2001. At the time, just a month after the World Trade Center attacks, he thought it was because of his nationality. However, after consulting his lawyer, he learned his mistake in claim of citizenship was one commonly prosecuted by the INS, no matter where the applicant is from.
Michael Davis, Al-Saeed's lawyer, has successfully handled hundreds of cases like this, but, he says, recent changes within the INS are making him wonder whether winning such cases will now be tougher.
The recent overhaul of the INS and the current requirement that all male visitors from twenty, mostly Islamic, countries are interviewed, fingerprinted and photographed by the INS has Davis worried. Davis says since 9/11, immigration law has become more complicated.
"We did have a similar case in court, very similar fact pattern, and that case has been continued, the INS is trying to present more information to the court, so you never like to count your chickens before they hatch," says Davis.
Davis says the post-9/11 atmosphere shouldn't have an effect on the way a judge decides a case like Al-Saeed's, but it may effect how diligently the INS prosecutes a case.
Curt Aljets, the district director for the INS office in Bloomington, says he cannot comment on the Al-Saeed case. However, he says, recent changes within the INS and the new registration requirement for some visitors to the U.S. does not mean the INS is changing how it prosecutes in cases like Al-Saeed's.
"As we run across people who have unlawful presence in the United States, we would present them for an immigration judge's hearing in the past as we are now," says Aljets. "We are now kind of focused more towards doing this registration and as we run across those people who are unlawfully in the United States, we continue to prepare them for an immigration judge hearing."
Back in Winona, Wadie and Jennifer quietly watch Zack playing his toys. The last few nights, Wadie has had nightmares about the upcoming deportation hearing.
Jennifer says she's scared, too.
"As a citizen of this country, we are guaranteed our life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," says Jennifer. "Well, my pursuit of happiness and Zack's pursuit of happiness is to have Wadie here. And if we are forced to, in order to keep our family together, go to Saudi Arabia, I don't even know if we'll have our life, but I know I won't have my liberty. How is that keeping my rights?"
Recent attacks on Americans in the Middle East and talk of war with Iraq have compounded the family's fears of having to move to Saudi Arabia, a country where, Wadie says, Jennifer wouldn't be able to go out on her own, and where Zack would grow up without the freedoms this country promises its citizens.