Skip to comments.City liaison to Islam caught in INS snare
Posted on 01/15/2003 9:39:43 AM PST by Sir Gawain
City liaison to Islam caught in INS snare
By David Waters
January 15, 2003
To many Christians and Jews in Memphis, Dr. Nabil Bayakly is the face of Islam.
Bayakly, born and raised in Lebanon, is a soft-spoken, studious and prayerful man who has lived in Memphis since 1991. He and his wife have four Memphis-born children, ages 8 months to 10 years.
Bayakly (pronounced by-OCK-uh-lee) earned a doctorate in biology at the University of Memphis in 1995. He's taught at the U of M and at Memphis Theological Seminary. He speaks fluent English and Arabic.
"Nabil is our go-to guy," said Jim Foreman, executive director of the National Conference for Community and Justice, which organizes many interfaith gatherings.
"Whenever we need someone to represent or explain Islam, we turn to Nabil. He's rational and highly educated. He's very committed to reaching out and helping all of us understand each other.
"In the past few years, Nabil has emerged as one of the leading voices of our interfaith community."
None of that mattered last Wednesday when Bayakly walked into the local office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
For several hours, Bayakly was photographed, fingerprinted and questioned about his family, his associations and his finances.
Later that evening, he was taken out in handcuffs and driven to a nearby prison, where he was detained until his attorney posted a $7,500-cash bond the next morning.
"I had this happen to me once before, years ago in Lebanon, when I was arrested and detained by the Syrian secret police just because I was a Muslim," Bayakly said.
"The attitude of the INS agents last week was the same as the Syrian police. The only difference is that the INS agents didn't beat me."
INS agents won't talk about Bayakly's case. They won't talk about anyone's case.
But it's clear Bayakly is another victim of the federal government's "special registration" fiasco for men from Muslim countries, which began last November.
More than 500 men have been detained. Fifty are still in custody. Religious and civil liberties groups have criticized the process and say that good, law-abiding, pro-American people are being penalized for INS screw ups.
"Basically, what this has become is an immigration sweep," Juliette Kayyem, a terrorism expert at Harvard University, told The Washington Post.
"The idea that this has anything to do with security or is something the government can do to stop terrorism is absurd."
What happened to Bayakly is absurd.
Bayakly, 42, came to America in 1979 on an F-1 student visa. He earned degrees at Boston University, the University of Louisiana and the U of M.
In 1996, he got an H-1 professional worker visa and began teaching biology and Arabic at the U of M. That visa expired May 19.
Bayakly had hoped to get a tenure-track position at the university, which would have allowed him to apply for a green card.
But last April, Bayakly was told the university didn't have enough funding. So, before his H-1 visa expired, Bayakly applied for an R-1 religious worker visa.
Bayakly is a founder and director of Masjid AnNoor, a small, quiet mosque near the university. He teaches the Koran and Arabic.
Bayakly didn't hear from the INS until October, when he was asked to send more documents. He did and kept waiting.
In December, the federal government ordered male foreign nationals from Lebanon and 11 other Muslim countries to register with the INS by Jan. 10.
Bayakly, who has held valid visas since 1979, already is in the INS computer system. Didn't matter. He had to go get in line and register.
He waited as long as he could in hopes the INS would let him know about a new visa. He was nervous about showing up with an expired visa. He went anyway. He wanted to follow the rules.
For his trouble, he was photographed, fingerprinted, questioned, and finally, arrested for having an expired visa.
Bayakly said he tried to explain that his visa application was pending.
He tried to tell the agents that he had lived here since 1979 and paid his taxes and supported his family and had never been in trouble with the law.
He showed agents letters of recommendation from the NCCJ and the Memphis Mayor's Office.
He told them he had helped the FBI translate bio-terrorism manuals after Sept. 11.
None of that mattered.
"I was insulted and ridiculed and humiliated," Bayakly said.
"They told me I was illegal and I had no rights."
Which isn't true, of course.
INS officials in New Orleans said they couldn't comment on Bayakly's case. They did say that an expired visa isn't necessarily grounds for an arrest or detention.
"If you reapply for a visa before your visa expires, you have a legal pending status," said Sarah Mouw of the INS office in New Orleans.
Bayakly hopes his attorney can cut through the bureaucracy and get his status cleared up.
Until then, all he can do is wait and hope that the country that has embraced him since 1979 won't turn its back on him now.
"I haven't told my children yet. I don't want them to know that their father was in jail like a common criminal," Bayakly said.
"I don't want them to know that this can happen in America."
Do we want to know this can happen in America?
Contact columnist David Waters at 529-2399 or E-mail email@example.com. Faith Matters runs on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
And that's all the difference in the world, isn't it?
There's more to this story, I don't know what it is but, there's definitely more to it. My wager is that he lipped off at some point, or he didn't actually apply for the new visa when he says he did.
Something else is involved.
You can tak'em out of the culture but you can't take the culture out of 'em
The Sept 11 thing that is...
Ya, those Buddist Syrians can be vicious. Laughing out loud!!
INS officials in New Orleans said they couldn't comment on Bayakly's case.
The confidentiality laws need to be fixed. Once a person goes public about their dealings with a government agency, the agency should be free to let the facts out.
Well I don't agree. I have read at least a dozen paragraphs, and although the author took great pains to describe this man's "Memphis-born" children, he has yet to mention whether the subject is here legally or not.
What columnists omit often speaks as loudly as what they choose to include.
I hope my question will be answered before reaching the end of the article, but being "mean-spirited" I expect it will not be.
Professor of Biology &
Chair, Division of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Computer Science
National (U.S.) Mission Statement
We the undersigned, as Americans of conscience, insist that the economic sanctions targeting Iraqi civilians be lifted immediately. We further insist that the Iraqi people who have suffered from the sanctions be duly assisted and compensated for the cruelty to which they have been subjected. We assert that the voice of the American people has not been heard in this regard, nor is it being represented. We pledge to honor the Hour of Silence (12-1 p.m. pacific standard time, November 11, 2000) in prayer and reflection of the plight of the Iraqi people.
1275. Nadeem Shafi, Memphis, TN
American Airlines Flight 587 crashed on Veteran's Day 2001.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.