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Local Iraqi man’s immigration case reopened

  • Niberd Abdalla and his wife Ellen McShane sit in attorney Buz Eisenberg's office after Abdalla’s release in January from seven months of detention. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Buz Eisenberg represents Niberd Abdalla as an attorney with the ACLU Immigrants Protection Project of Western Massachusetts. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Friday, July 06, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — An Iraqi man formerly detained by immigration authorities will have another chance to earn legal asylum after the Board of Immigration Appeals decided to reopen his case late last month.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts announced on Thursday that Niberd Abdalla, a longtime resident of Florence now living in Connecticut, was granted a motion to reopen his case on June 29.

“This successful appeal guarantees Niberd Abdalla the opportunity to pursue all his legal remedies,” Buz Eisenberg, an attorney from the Northampton law firm of Weinberg & Garber representing Abdalla, said in a statement. “There are plenty of remedies. We are optimistic.”

Abdalla now has the chance to go before a judge who will decide whether to cancel his removal order and if he will be granted asylum. He has the option to use his wife, children or grandchildren, who are all U.S. citizens, as sponsors, according to Eisenberg. After that, Abdalla wants to become a citizen himself.

“I’m so happy to hear this news,” Abdalla said in a statement. “I want to thank Buz Eisenberg, the ACLU, and everyone who fought for me. I never would have gotten through this without you. I look forward to the day I can become a full citizen.”

In June 2017, Abdalla was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after visiting the office for a routine check-in and ordered to be removed from the country. He spent nearly eight months in the Suffolk County House of Correction before he was released Jan. 25 on personal recognizance with no conditions and a clean criminal record.

A resident of the U.S. for 42 years, Abdalla is married to Ellen McShane, with whom he has an adult son. They got married in January while Abdalla was still detained, in a chapel at the jail.

“This truly is great news,” McShane said in a statement. “A true victory to freedom and the American justice system. I personally am so relieved that we are able to take this one step forward to having Niberd safe and sound with his family as a full citizen of the country I am proud to call home.”

In July 2017, a federal judge in Michigan blocked the deportation of more than 1,400 Iraqis in the United States who had also been ordered removed from the country, giving Abdalla’s case more time and hope. Because of the injunction, each Iraqi detainee had a 90-day stay of deportation from the time the government provided two key immigration records needed to reopen their cases.

“Preparations were being made to deport them all back to Iraq,” Eisenberg said in a WHMP radio interview Thursday with Bill Newman, head of the western Massachusetts ACLU. “All of them had been here a long time in the U.S..”

An Iraqi citizen of Kurdish descent, Abdalla left his home country fleeing systematic persecution of Kurds under the regime of Saddam Hussein in 1975.

His parents sent him as a teenager to live with a relative in Connecticut, but when they were unable to support him, he lived on his own, at some times even experiencing homelessness.

Abdalla now fears if he were deported back to Iraq today he would he tortured or killed by Islamic State militants. He lived in Florence for nearly two decades taking care of his elderly mother before moving back to Connecticut. His mother passed away while he was detained.

Abdalla has said that he applied for legal status several times over the years, but at the time failed to realize that he needed to follow up on the process. From 1987 until 2003, he regularly updated his work visa, but after the Iraq War began, immigration authorities arrested him for the first time in 2003 when he went to renew it.

Immigration authorities have taken an even more aggressive approach under President Donald Trump, with some saying they are targeting vulnerable populations to make a point.

“Each one is another notch in Trump’s belt to show he is doing what he promised to do, which is be tough on immigrants,” Eisenberg told WHMP. “Niberd became a poster child for the assault on people who are immigrants in this region.”

Eisenberg admires Congressman James McGovern’s support for the abolition of ICE, saying the agency lacks transparency and a clear focus.

“Jim McGovern is a hero to me because he has time and time again tried to use his voice to try to change governmental practices that are inhumane,” Eisenberg said.

Eisenberg represents Abdalla pro bono through the ACLU’s Immigrant Protection Project, a volunteer team of dozens of lawyers formed after the 2016 election to help individuals targeted by the administration’s new immigration policies. With bilingual operators on call, the organization has helped hundreds of immigrants in western Massachusetts and Connecticut through the legal process, securing housing and navigating employment issues.

“We have every reason to be hopeful now,” Eisenberg told WHMP. “I think we are on track for a great ending.”

The Immigrant Protection Project offices can be reached at 413-727-8515, or by email at Jluengo@aclum.org.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com.