On Nov. 27, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) arrested Husein Mallah of Spokane because his visa had expired. For the most part, his is a typical overstay case: Husein entered the country legally, but decided to stay after his visa had expired. Husein owns a house in Otis Orchards, is employed and has a child enrolled in school. He has admitted his guilt, and his family may take the option of voluntary departure back to Jordan. If they depart voluntarily, they will still be eligible to apply for entry into the United States later.
His brother Hassan Mallah has previously applied to sponsor visas for Husein and his family, but the process takes years, and his brother decided to stay in the country, knowing that his visa had expired.
What's disturbing is not as much Husein's deportation but the size of his bond, set at $20,000 by the INS. Husein's lawyer, Jerry Kagele, says that a typical bond in this type of immigration violation case is between $3,500 and $5,000 and contends that Husein's bond was set so high because of his nationality.
"I guess society can judge the fairness of that," he says.
The INS maintains there's nothing unusual about Husein's case.
"There is no new policy on bonds directed at Middle Easterners," says David Johnston, chief officer of the INS office in Spokane. "When deciding on a bond, we consider protection to society, and if he's a flight risk. The fact that a bond was set indicates that we felt he isn't a danger or a flight risk. We trust him, and we felt $20,000 was sufficient to ensure that he'd show up. In my experience, $20,000 is not unusual."
But Kagele vehemently disputes that. "The INS told me specifically that they put a high bond on [Husein] because of his nationality," he insists. "I have never had a bond that high, especially for someone with no criminal record, who's not a flight risk and who's just an overstay."
He doesn't give much for the trust argument either:
"They don't trust him very much. [The bond] is excessive; I've never seen this, and I've been in this business for 30 years."
Other federal immigration officials seem to support Kagele's view. A deportation agent in the Seattle INS office says that an overstay case, with no criminal record and no risk of flight, typically has a bond of up to $5,000.
Another official who asked to remain unnamed, this time with the Executive Office of Immigration Review -- the federal agency that runs immigration courts -- says: "I've never seen a simple overstay with a bond set at $20,000. I've only seen high bonds in the really bad cases, if the immigrant is a criminal. But if the INS suspected that [Husein] was part of a terror cell, they wouldn't set a bond at all because he's a flight risk."
When told that Kagele suspects the bond's size is due to Husein's nationality, she says: "That would be my best guess. The world isn't a fair place anymore. People are a little bit phobic of people from certain countries."
Though Husein's case is the only one of its kind in Spokane so far, at least according to the INS, civil rights groups suspect a national pattern may be forming.
"What you're telling me isn't unusual," says Carol Khawly of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee. Since Sept. 11, she says, "we are hearing stories, we are seeing anecdotal info. The majority of Middle Eastern people have very high bonds. The INS wants to keep Middle Eastern people in jail even though it knows they aren't criminals. So they make these huge bonds which most people can't possibly pay."
With help of friends and members of the Islamic Center of Spokane, shortly after being taken into custody by INS, Husein Mallah posted bail.