When Amer Othman Al Adi arrived at Cleveland’s federal immigration offices on Tuesday morning for what he thought to be a routine check-in, agents with the Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agency immediately detained him, wrenching him from the arms of Fidaa, his wife of 29 years.
Today, the 57-year-old Palestinian-American business owner sits in the Geauga County jail awaiting deportation — the first time Adi has seen the inside of a jail cell in his three decades living in the United States.
“[ICE] arrested him like he was a criminal. Usually criminals have to do something wrong,” Lina Adi, the second oldest of the family’s four children told me.
No charges have been filed to warrant his arrest and Khaalid H. Walls, ICE spokesperson for the Northeastern region, which includes Ohio, would not say on what grounds he was detained nor the anticipated length of Adi’s incarceration.
Less than two weeks ago, Amer and Fidaa had been preparing to voluntarily leave the country for Jordan, cooperating with a January 7 deadline issued by immigration authorities in September. As we reported, Adi received a last minute stay of deportation much to the relief of his family and community.
In the following days, the Mayor of Youngstown declared January 6th Amer “Al” Adi Othman Day in recognition of his years of dedicated service to the city; Congressman Tim Ryan, who has supported Adi’s fight to remain in the country by introducing a “private bill” into Congress on his behalf every year since 2013, celebrated what appeared a victory along with friends and family at Adi’s Downtown Circle Hookah Bar.
Since Adi’s arrest, his family and supporters have scrambled for answers and fervently advocated for his release.
Speaking to reporters outside the immigration facility, immigrant rights lawyer David Leopold said he could hardly believe what had just happened.
“This is a man who has played by the rules ever since he arrived in the United States. In the last several years, he has jumped through every hoop that ICE asked him to jump through. He came voluntarily to the ICE office today, accompanied by Rep. Ryan and myself, for what was supposed to be a routine check-in, only to be thrown into a jail cell and told he would be deported by force,” Leopold said.
“It is important to remember that Mr. Adi was set to leave the U.S. with his wife two weeks ago. He had bought a ticket and made arrangements to voluntarily meet ICE at the airport. ICE then cancelled the deportation – that they would today take him into custody is beyond baffling. I can only conclude that it is a brazen show of cruelty and an attempt to dehumanize and humiliate my client Mr. Adi.”
Leopold has been working on Adi’s case for close to twenty years.
“ICE officials could not explain what change of circumstances brought about this cruel and humiliating gesture,” Fidaa said of her husband’s arrest.
In a last minute attempt to keep her husband out of jail, Fidaa told the arresting ICE agents that the two of them would leave the country immediately. They would pay for the airline tickets, she said, so as not to cost the taxpayers any unnecessary expense.
Like everyone in the family and community, Lina was in shock when she heard the news.
“Waking up [to find] out my father’s in jail, that never crossed my mind, not once,” she told me. “I thought if they were going to do anything they would have just deported him right then and there.”
Her father, she added, will remain on a hunger strike until his release.
Adi had not posed a flight risk as ICE has required him to wear a GPS ankle monitor since September.
He was still wearing the device when he walked into the immigration check-in.
Authorities at the county jail told his family that Adi would not be allowed any visitors, even on the designated visiting days. An ICE spokesperson would not provide a reason for this seemingly punitive decision.
“[ICE] wants to be really cruel and I’m not understanding why,” Lina told me.
Prompted by his family, supporters local and national have been signing a petition directed at Rebecca Adducci, ICE regional director for Detroit and the ultimate decision maker at this point in Adi’s case. They have also been urging supporters to call and email her requesting that Adi remain.
Her office phone, however, has been turned off since yesterday.
Adducci has long been the subject of court cases involving her indiscriminate targeting of long-time, law abiding residents such as Adi. But since Trump took office, she has become increasingly untethered in her mission to tear families apart.
Just two days before, she oversaw the deportation of 30 year resident Jorge Garcia, a Michigan father of U.S. citizens who came to the United States at the age of ten. Adducci used the technicality that he is too old to be a dreamer to justify Garcia’s immediate deportation to Mexico.
Adducci, 52, is a member of the Republican Party and makes an annual salary of approximately $150,000.
Despite continuous attempts, she could not be reached for comment nor were Mondoweiss’ requests passed on to her by other agency officials.
While Adducci has become infamous for her particular cruelty (she and her agents made national news after they ate lunch in a Mexican restaurant and then proceeded to raid the kitchen), ICE has been ramping up its arrests of non-criminal, long-time U.S. residents across the country.
Between January and July 2017, the agency arrested more than 28,000 so-called immigration violators with no criminal record. According to the Washington Post, this amounts to an increase of nearly three times that during the same seven months in 2016 under the Obama administration.
Adi’s has been a long and protracted fight to stay in the country since his arrival in 1979. ICE’s aggressive pursuit of his deportation stems back to a technicality from a previous marriage. In anger and coercion, his first wife signed an affidavit claiming their marriage was not legitimate and based only on legalizing his immigration status.
But as Hatem Abudayyeh, Executive Director of the Arab American Action Network explained in an interview with Mondoweiss, the state does not have a credible case against Adi.
“His first wife recanted her original testimony, and signed a 12 page affidavit that assured the government that their marriage was legal and real,” Abudayyeh said.
When contacted by Mondoweiss, ICE’s regional spokesperson Khaalid H. Walls argued that Adi’s immigration case has undergone “exhaustive judicial review” at multiple levels of the nation’s courts.
“In each review, the courts have uniformly held that Mr. Othman does not have a legal basis to remain in the U.S.,” Walls said.
Abudayyeh disagreed, noting the second affidavit signed by his first wife provides Adi all the necessary legal basis to remain in the U.S.
“We know that if he gets a hearing and this fact is brought forth, he will be granted permanent residency. That’s why he deserves a stay, until ALL the facts are brought forth in a public immigration court hearing,” Abudayyeh told Mondoweiss.
Multiple ICE offices would not say if Adi would ever receive that chance however.
For now, he awaits deportation to Jordan, though both his family and his wife’s family are from Palestine. If deported, Adi will become a second-generation refugee, as his parents became refugees of Palestine during the 1948 Nakba.
His family and supporters say they plan to keep calling and emailing Adducci and other ICE officials, and begin holding protests if necessary.