Imam Yussuf Abdi of the Madina Masjid Islamic Center held a press conference today at the center to address the recent detainment of two of his congregants. Ahmed Bwika and his wife Emma--asylum seekers from Kenya--were called in for a routine meeting with the immigration office but are now being held separately at a jail in Cache County, Utah. They are scheduled for deportation to Kenya Monday, March 13. The two members of Madina Masjid have a son who remains free.
"I remember where [Ahmed] used to pray," said Imam Yussuf, gesturing to a spot on his left. Ahmed and Emma were detained ten days ago, but the community at Madina Masjid discovered the situation Friday night when friends of Ahmed visited the mosque and informed the imam what had happened. "We were very shocked and sad," Imam Yussuf said. "Because Ahmed has been here many years in this country. He has been here more than 11 years."
It is not customary for members of a mosque to ask about residency status, so Imam Abdi could not confirm if Ahmed and Emma had green cards or not. He did say that they are law-abiding asylum seekers, and it is presumed they have work permits because Ahmed was employed at Delta Airlines.
Fellow Muslims, attorneys, and other religious leaders attended the press conference to show support for the Bwika family, and to recognize the unusual detention of Ahmed. An immigration lawyer present, Jim McConkie, who does not represent the Bwikas said, "In this climate it is not difficult for the government to find a technicality [upon which to detain people]." McConkie is a co-founder of the Refugee Justice League and said it is easy for technicalities to arise when you have refugees unfamiliar with the local language, culture, and laws to fill out forms incorrectly. McConkie suggests this kind of technicality can be used to detain and deport refugees.
Noor Ul-Hasan, a community leader who has lived in the United States for 50 years suggested that concerned citizens contain their outrage. "Community outrage is not going to do good in this situation," she said. Instead, she urges community members to maintain relationships with Muslim neighbors and the Muslim community, letting them know they will be spoken for by people besides those who look like them. "The safety of those individuals is very delicate right now," she said of the Diwiki family, pointing out that protesting outside the jail may cause unknown harm to the detainees. "We have no control over what they do to them in that jail," she said and urged people to not try and push ICE, at the recommendation of immigration attorneys present.
As an action point, Ul-Hasan urged the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable to request permission from the jail for Ahmed and his wife to be able to visit face-to-face with their imam. A typical visitation at the jail consists only of a 20-minute conversation via two-way screens.
As a result of this incident, the Madina Masjid community feels threatened. "[Ahmed] used to come to the mosque, he used to pray with us," Imam Yussuf said. "This man has been here 11 years and we're scared now as the Muslim community."