Immigration court grants ex-Florence resident legal status

  • Niberd Abdalla and his wife Ellen McShane sit in attorney Buz Eisenberg’s office after Abdalla’s release from Suffolk County House of Correction in Boston in January 2018 after being held for seven months. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Niberd Abdalla during his incarceration the Suffolk County House of Correction under the control of Immigration and Customs Enforcement after being detained during a regular meeting with ICE on June 8, 2017. Abdalla spoke of his experiences within the correctional facility, his medical difficulties, and the possible deportment to Iraq on August 4, 2017. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/14/2021 12:30:56 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A federal immigration judge has granted permanent legal status to a local Iraqi immigrant and former Florence resident who immigration authorities jailed and attempted to deport four years ago.

Niberd Abdalla, a Kurdish Iraqi man who has lived in the United States for more than 42 years, announced Thursday that he is now a legal permanent resident after an immigration judge’s ruling Wednesday.

“I really can’t put into the words the overwhelming feeling that yesterday’s court victory brought,” Abdalla, 60, said in a statement Thursday. “We can just be what we were meant to be from the very beginning: a happy family.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement had jailed Abdalla in June 2017 after he reported to an ICE office for a routine check-in — visits he had made biannually for years. His detention sparked protests, including a rally of hundreds in front of Northampton City Hall. After eight months inside the Suffolk County House of Correction, the ACLU of Massachusetts secured his release from detention, and in July 2018 the federal Board of Immigration Appeals granted Abdalla’s motion to reopen his case.

Attorney Buz Eisenberg of the Northampton law firm Weinberg & Garber was a lawyer on Abdalla’s case over the years.

“We owe our success to the outpouring of love and support from the community here in western Massachusetts, and the courage and endurance of Niberd, his wife Ellen McShane, and their family and friends,” Eisenberg said.

As an ethnic minority in Iraq, Abdalla feared possible death if he was expelled back to his country of birth. After facing persecution from the ruling Ba’ath Party, his parents sent Abdalla to the United States in 1975 in the hopes that his aunt in Connecticut would take him in. But she was financially unable to care for him, so he moved to New York City before eventually landing in the Pioneer Valley.

McShane, Abdalla’s wife, said in a statement that her husband can now live in freedom for the rest of his life. The couple currently resides in Connecticut.

“Without all the love and support of family, friends, and so many people we didn’t even know, this never could have happened,” McShane said. “There is still hope in our nation when the xenophobic, hateful actions of those who wish to exclude anyone who is ‘other’ are so roundly denied by the judge’s warm and heartfelt words to Niberd: ‘Welcome to America!’”

Bill Newman, an attorney in the ACLU of Massachusetts’ western regional office, said that Northampton immigration lawyer Megan Kludt was another “invaluable member” of the legal team working on Abdalla’s case.

“Across the country, millions of other families can’t wait,” Newman said. “Congress must pass legislation to create a path to citizenship, and Massachusetts must do all it can to keep families together, regardless of immigration status.”

Abdalla was one of several local immigrants who ICE attempted to deport after the administration of Donald Trump began denying immigrants the stays of removal they had received during check-ins with immigration authorities for years prior.

Lucio Perez, a Springfield resident and Guatemalan immigrant, took up residence at First Congregational Church in Amherst in October 2017 after ICE denied him a stay of his deportation. In March, immigration authorities granted him that stay.

In Northampton, Russian immigrant Irida Kakhtiranova took sanctuary in the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence in April 2018 after she too was denied a stay of removal. Last month, the Board of Immigration Appeals granted Kakhtiranova the right to reopen her case for asylum.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at

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