- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 6, 2010

COLUMBUS, Ohio | A teenage girl who converted to Christianity and ran away from home is being blocked by her Muslim parents from fighting the possibility of deportation, her attorney told a judge Monday in an ongoing custody dispute.

Rifqa Bary, 17, who fled home last year and stayed with a Florida minister whom she met on Facebook, is an illegal immigrant and does not want to be returned to her native Sri Lanka because she fears being harmed or killed. All four major schools of Islamic jurisprudence recommend death as the penalty for conversion from Islam.

Her attorney, Angela Lloyd, asked a judge to sign an order stating that reunification with her parents is not possible by her 18th birthday in August.

The order would allow Rifqa, who is in foster care, to apply for special immigration status without her parents’ consent.

Omar Tarazi, an attorney for the parents, objected, telling the judge that he had been unaware of Rifqa’s separate maneuver to apply to an immigration court. He said the parents previously filed an immigration application for the whole family, all of whom are in the U.S. illegally.

Franklin County Juvenile Court Judge Elizabeth Gill declined to issue the order without first holding a hearing next month. She also declined to remove a gag order that prevents attorneys from discussing the case publicly.

Rifqa and her parents, Mohamed and Aysha Bary, have agreed to follow a counseling plan drawn up by a county child welfare agency to try to resolve the family’s conflict. It requires both sides to work with individual counselors and to try to attend joint counseling.

But a face-to-face meeting remains unlikely anytime soon.

Jim Zorn, a children’s services attorney, told the judge that Rifqa continues to believe that a reconciliation with her parents is impossible. Rifqa’s counselor has indicated that contact with her parents would be premature, he said.

Rifqa has also complained that her parents have not responded to an emotional letter sent to them through a counselor that explains why their relationship broke down, Ms. Lloyd said.

The letter was more like a list of 20 questions that read like a backdoor interrogation prepared by attorneys, Mr. Tarazi said. It included questions such as, “Why don’t I have happy memories of my childhood?” he said.

The parents want to respond but also want assurances that Rifqa’s attorneys are not interfering with the process, Mr. Tarazi said.

Judge Gill ordered both attorneys to stay away from the counselors.

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