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Ann Arbor man spared from deportation

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — “You get to stay.”

Family and friends hug as the news that Yousef Ajin would not be deported made its way to the crowd outside of the McNamara Federal Building in Detroit on Tuesday.

With that pronouncement, a federal judge on Tuesday granted a rare deportation waiver to an Ann Arbor father of four with a criminal history whose case became a lighting rod in the growing debate over immigration in the United States.

Immigration Judge David Paruch ruled that Yousef Ajin can keep his green card and his permanent status in the United States, despite his non-violent criminal record, because his family would experience extreme hardship if he were deported to Jordan.

The decision drew cheers from a waiting room outside the Patrick V. McNamara Federal Building, where Ajin’s family and supporters had gathered. It also caused the crowd of nearly 100 people outside the federal building on Michigan Avenue to cheer and raise pro-immigration signs.

An attorney from the Justice Department, who would not identify herself at the hearing, said the government would not appeal the judge’s decision.

Paruch told Ajin: “My decision is final. You get to stay.”

The judge went on to say waivers are not often granted.

“Your offenses were long ago and your family would suffer hardship,” Paruch said. “If you are back here, things change. Your likelihood of getting a waiver is way down. You don’t want to test this again.”

Ajin, who testified via livestream from the Calhoun County Jail in Battle Creek, told the judge: “I will not. I am not crazy.”

Ajin’s wife, Sihem Omar, cried after the decision: “I am so happy.”

Ajin came to the United States in 1999. Omar and their four children are U.S. citizens.

According to radicalwashtenaw.org, an activist group that supports keeping Ajin in the United States, Ajin went for a routine check-in with immigration in Detroit on Jan. 30 and never came back home. He was jailed pending possible deportation.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed Ajin was arrested Jan. 30, noting he had “a felony conviction for possession of a financial transaction device from June 2001 and a final order of removal was issued April 11, 2012, by an immigration judge.”

Authorities “determined Ajin to be non-compliant with the requirements of his release as provided and was taken into ERO custody,” according to ICE.

Local immigration law experts and advocates believe that, under President Donald Trump’s administration, there will be an increase in deportation hearings for individuals previously considered low-priority cases, such as Ajin’s.

“I think it’s absolutely reasonable to think that folks in immigration and customs enforcement feel free to take a more aggressive approach under President Trump than they did under the previous administration,” said Jonathan T. Weinberg, a Wayne State law professor who specializes in immigration law. “I think we can expect an aggressive approach.”

And Weinberg said there are only a limited number of cases in which a judge can stop deportation. An immigration judge does not have the authority to stop deportation just because he is sympathetic, he said.

Yousef Ajin

“Hardship can be a part of the ground, but it’s never enough,” he said.

Rula Aoun, director of the Arab-American Civil Rights League, also said in light of Trump’s recent executive orders on immigration, more individuals may find themselves facing deportation.

“It seems like there is more of an incentive to do these deportations immediately,” she said. “It seems they are ready to take action on everyone.”

Aoun said her organization receives calls daily from immigrants. While their previous concerns were how to bring relatives into the United States, now they are concerned about their ability to stay in the country, she said.

“It’s really unfortunate that all of this is happening,” she said. “Lately, all the calls and inquiries we’ve been getting are people who are seeking to adjust status. These are people who have been living in the United States for quite some time. They are worried something is going to happen to them. They want to legalize their stay in the United States.”

On Tuesday, Paruch presided over a two-hour immigration hearing during which he heard testimony from Ajin about his past criminal record, his employment history and details of his family, including his disabled 15-year-old son who has Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, which requires 24-hour care.

Ajin was convicted of two crimes in Michigan, once in 2001 and again in 2003.

In the first case, Ajin pleaded guilty to possession of a financial transaction device. Ajin said in court on Tuesday he found a wallet during his work shift at Mott Hospital in Ann Arbor and took it. Inside, he found $10 and credit cards. He used the cards to buy cigarettes, beer and cologne at a Meijer store.

He was sentenced to probation and paid a fine of around $1,500, he said.

In the second case, he pleaded guilty to retail fraud related to an incident in a Chelsea store where he used an express lane scanner to pay for some items, such as formula, but didn’t pay for others, including a phone and remote control. In that case, he was sentenced to probation and a fine.

Asked by his immigration attorney, Christopher Vreeland, why he committed both crimes, Ajin said: “It’s embarrassing, and I am ashamed. ... I know it’s wrong.”

The judge said it appeared Ajin worked most of the time he’s been in the United States — from jobs as a maintenance worker to an Uber driver to restaurant work.

Paruch asked Ajin if he was ever going to break the law again. Ajin said no.

“Even if I find a million dollars, I will not pick it up,” he said.

Paruch asked both Ajin and Omar what would happen if Ajin was deported and who would care for their disabled son. The child cannot speak and must be fed and bathed.

Omar said while her other children help with her son, there was no one else to care for him. She also said Ajin was the main income earner in the family. Omar got a job two days after he was taken into federal custody.

Asked by the judge what kind of father Ajin was, Omar said he was a caring father.

“He is a good person. He is a funny guy ... he loves everybody,” Omar said.

jchambers@detroitnews.com