- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 26, 2002

Democratic lawmakers, with the help of the head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, have moved to keep a family of illegal Middle Easterners in the United States despite the family's defiance of a 1997 court-ordered deportation.
An 11th-hour bill filed by Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat, will delay by at least six months the deportation of Houston businessman Sharif Kesbeh, his wife, Asmaa, and six of their seven children.
The family was scheduled to be deported tomorrow, but the action was delayed by James Ziglar, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, at the request of several Democratic lawmakers.
That delay allowed Mr. Torricelli to file a bill on Monday that triggered a stay on the deportation.
Mr. Torricelli filed the bill at the urging of another Democrat, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas in whose Houston district the Kesbeh family had lived since arriving on a tourist visa in 1992.
Mrs. Jackson-Lee filed a similar bill in the House last spring, hoping to allow the family to remain in the United States despite a federal court ruling denying their request for asylum. That bill was stalled by the House Judiciary Committee.
The Kesbehs arrived in the United States from Saudi Arabia in 1991, settled in Houston and started a business selling flags.
A plea for asylum was denied in 1996 by an immigration judge, and the denial was affirmed by the Board of Immigration Appeals. A 1997 petition to review the case was dismissed by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The government ordered the family to leave the country in 1998.
But the Kesbehs remained and their business prospered, accumulating an inventory now worth $300,000, said a Houston lawyer representing the Kesbehs.
A spokesman for Mrs. Jackson-Lee said the Kesbehs are the "Ward and June Cleaver" of their Houston neighborhood and that the congresswoman's intention is not to usurp the law.
"But let's be sensible here," said spokesman Marc Battle. "In this family, one of the daughters is a 9-year-old U.S. resident. For this family in this situation, we should do what we can to keep the family together."
Mrs. Jackson-Lee initially sought the help of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, who persuaded Mr. Ziglar to stay the deportation until a Senate bill could be drafted that would prolong the deportation process.
Mr. Torricelli's bill accomplished that, although his office denied that he was doing the bidding of Mrs. Jackson-Lee or Mr. Kennedy.
"We received a request from constituents in New Jersey in the Arab-American community who asked us to introduce this legislation," said spokeswoman Debra DeShong. "All we are asking is a thorough review of this."
Mr. Kesbeh and his eldest son, 19-year-old Noor, left a Houston immigration detention facility on Tuesday afternoon after being detained since March 20. They were taken into custody as part of a sweep by immigration officers responding to an order from Attorney General John Ashcroft to round up "absconders," or people who have been flouting immigration laws.
Mr. Ziglar's delay of the deportation has "permanently damaged" the INS' relationship with Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
"This sets a terrible precedent for cases like this," Mr. Sensenbrenner added. "The INS has violated its own rules hopefully, we can abolish the INS and deal with an agency that wants to enforce the law. Mr. Ziglar is sworn to uphold the law, and he conspired to allow this family to avoid the law."
The INS says it will follow congressional protocol.
"The congressman has expressed an interest in looking into this and we will comply," said Mariela Melero, a spokeswoman for the INS Houston office.


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