ALEXANDRIA, Va. â€” Adil Hasan and his wife, Enas Ibrahim, came to the U.S. in 2008 as refugees from Iraq, and have been living peacefully in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., ever since.
To get here, though, they faced a dilemma as they sat in a camp in Jordan, where they were required to fill out their family trees to apply for refugee status: Should they include Hasan’s brother, Majid Al Mashhandani, who participated in the 2004 kidnapping of American contractor Roy Hallums?
In a phone interview Tuesday, Ibrahim said they decided to keep that relationship a secret.
“We just wanted to leave our country,” she said. “When we started the process we were just scared to add his name.”
Now Ibrahim, her husband and her husband’s brother, Yousif Al Mashhandani, 35, of Vienna, Virginia, are charged with immigration fraud for failing to disclose the relationship. The three made their initial appearance in federal court Tuesday. All face up to 10 years in prison and eventual deportation.
Yousif and Hasan were detained pending a hearing scheduled for Friday. Ibrahim was allowed to remain free and return to her home in Burke, Virginia, where she cares for the couple’s two children, ages 5 and 6, who are natural born U.S. citizens.
The case comes in the midst of national debate over U.S. authorities’ ability to effectively vet refugee applicants. President Donald Trump has issued an executive order that temporarily suspends the nation’s refugee program to allow time for a review of the screening process. Refugee advocates argue that the vetting process is already very strict, and a federal judge has temporarily blocked Trump’s executive order from taking effect.
The charges against the three make no allegation that any of them were involved in Hallums’ kidnapping, though a court affidavit says Yousif’s fingerprint was found in the building where Hallums spent nearly a year in captivity before he was freed in an Army raid.
Hallums, though, said his kidnapping was largely a family affair perpetrated by the Mashhandani clan.
“The gang that had me was all one family,” Hallums said in a phone interview from his home in Memphis, Tennessee. “There were so many people involved in this kidnapping.”
Hallums said he was surprised to learn Tuesday that the three had been able to enter the U.S., given the fact that Yousif’s fingerprint had been on file with authorities for years when he made his refugee application in 2007.
When all three applied for U.S. citizenship, they had to answer whether they had ever given false or misleading information while applying for any immigration benefit.
And when the FBI came calling last year, Ibrahim said they came clean, giving agents Majid’s address and every bit of information they had about him. Ibrahim said she even offered to go with agents to Iraq to help them find him.
“I thought we were OK,” she said. “The agent was very nice. He said, ‘We know you are good people.’ I told him, ‘Just put yourself â€” if you were us, and you had someone behind you who wants to kill you.”
She said her husband worked in Baghdad’s Green Zone and was a target for terrorists.
In court papers, prosecutors allege that Ibrahim and her husband embellished the threat they faced, saying Hasan had been kidnapped, tortured by a Shia militia, and released after paying a $20,000 ransom. In reality, they allege, Hasan later acknowledged that he was only once stopped at a Shia militia checkpoint for five hours, and slapped once on his shoulder with an open hand.
As for Yousif’s fingerprint, Ibrahim said that her husband’s father kept all the family paperwork in the same place, and it’s not surprising that some of Yousif’s and Majid’s paperwork was commingled.
She wept as she contemplated the implications of the criminal case on her family.
“I don’t want to go back to Iraq,” she said through sobs. “It’s my nightmare.”
Matthew Barakat, The Associated Press