Attorney: Dearborn father faces 'lion's den' if deported to Lebanon

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
From left in front, son Hadi Souedad, attorney Nabih Ayad  and Arab-American Civil Rights League director Rula Aoun speak on Dearborn father Ibrahim Souedan's case Wednesday.

Every day, Ibrahim Souedan's family hopes against all odds they can stay together. 

The Dearborn immigrant faces deportation back to the Middle East, but activists and attorneys are working to stop the move and protect a man they say helped convict an accused associate of the Hezbollah terrorist group, and he faces torture or death if returned.

For those who love the father of five with no criminal record, the uncertainty and looming decision is an ordeal in itself.

"I want him to be here with our family," his oldest son, Hadi Souedan, said last week. "...We’re just praying and hoping for the best. There's nothing else we can do."

After years of legal wrangling related to overstaying a visa, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials had recently ordered Ibrahim Souedan back to Lebanon on Wednesday, supporters said.

But his flight never materialized after the 59-year-old was hospitalized with heart issues his family said were caused by the stress of the impending departure. Meanwhile, Souedan’s lawyers have filed motions with the federal Board of Immigration Appeals seeking to stay his removal and reopen proceedings.

A decision was expected soon, attorney Nabih Ayad said.

“This is a very serious case,” he told reporters during a news conference last week in Dearborn. “A person’s life is at stake here and we’re asking the authorities to take notice. … You’re not just throwing this individual back to his home country. You’re throwing him basically to the lion’s den. And he is no match for that.”

Reached Friday, Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, described Souedan as an "unlawfully present citizen of Lebanon (who) overstayed his lawful admission by nearly two decades. He was ordered to depart in 2005 and multiple subsequent appeals upheld that decision. In an exercise of discretion, ICE has allowed him to remain free from custody pending his departure from the U.S."

Ibrahim Souedan, right, with one of his five children, faces deportation back to Lebanon and possible retaliation for testifying against an official with Hezbollah.

Souedan, who works as a carpet layer, entered the U.S. on a visitor visa in 2000 but overstayed it and agreed to voluntary departure to Lebanon by early 2005, according to the motion his counsel filed this week with the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Before that date arrived, Souedan and his brother started speaking with the FBI to help build a case against Mahmoud Youssef Kourani, who was suspected of ties to Hezbollah, Ayad said. Court records show prosecutors alleged Kourani, "a member, fighter, recruiter and fund-raiser for Hezbollah," conspired with leaders in the group, including his brother, described as a military security chief for southern Lebanon.

The Dearborn man, who had briefly lived with Souedan, pleaded guilty in 2005 to providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization and was sentenced to 54 months in prison, The Detroit News reported, citing court filings.

Ayad argues Souedan's statements and cooperation helped secure the conviction and federal authorities pledged to help the immigrant in his battle since he likely risked retaliation if returned to Lebanon. “There was nothing in writing,” Ayad told reporters Wednesday. “There was a commitment, there was an understanding … that: ‘If you help us, we will do our best to help you.’”

Souedan’s case was reopened in immigration court in 2006. But Ayad alleges his attorney at the time, who a decade later was sentenced to 18 months in prison for providing false information in another immigration case, submitted an erroneous affidavit that ultimately led a judge to deny Souedan asylum based on a lack of credibility.

When Souedan appealed, the Board of Immigration Appeals in 2013 dismissed it, citing a judge's previous decision, which cites "inconsistencies, omission and absence of sufficient corroborative evidence."

Ayad insists Souedan, who is not fluent in English, was not properly represented in his earlier bids and cooperated with authorities as best as he could. Souedan also has checked in monthly with immigration officials and appears not to have been a priority for deportation until recently, Ayad added.

His case “must be reopened in order to prevent a grave miscarriage of justice,” the lawyer's motion read. “This is a real and serious situation of a man's life being at stake. It is undeniable that he did speak with the FBI on a number of occasions; his brother spoke with the FBI; and the person he was speaking about is the brother of Hezbollah's military division. This is real, serious, not made-up, and Respondent is at risk of being killed.”

Souedan did not believe he had done anything wrong, his son said. “My dad’s one of the most hard-working people I’ve ever met. All he wanted to do is come here and make a life for himself. He had nothing back (in Lebanon). .. My dad tried to help out and he tried to do good and the government didn’t reciprocate that.”

Supporters fear the situation could further chill Metro Detroit immigrants’ relations with law enforcement.

“This type of situation and this type of conduct does nothing but to destroy any trust building or any efforts that have been ongoing at our hands or at the hands of other organizations,” said Rula Aoun, director of the Arab-American Civil Rights League. “It’s unfortunate when an individual comes forward to assist our government, rather than in exchange rewarding him for taking such a risk, that we would punish that individual. This is a situation that could be very hurtful to the United States government. There is no incentive to ever assist or collaborate or help the government.”