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Locked in a Private Immigration Prison, One Man Speaks Out

Sheikh Zoubir Bouchikhi has been held without bail at a private immigration prison in Houston for the past four months.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re here in Austin, Texas, as we end today’s show by looking at the case of Sheikh Zoubir Bouchikhi, who has been held without bail at a private immigration prison in Houston for the past four months.

Imam Zoubir, as he’s known, is a native of Algeria, has lived in the United States for the past eleven years. He has four children, three of them American-born citizens. He first came to the United States in 1998 on a student visa. He earned a master’s degree in Islamic Studies, then moved to Houston, where he applied for a religious worker visa and was hired in 2001 by the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, or ISGH, a coalition of mosques and schools . Since then, he has served as the spiritual leader of the Abu Bakr Siddqui in southeast Houston.

In 2003, Imam Zoubir applied for permanent residency status as a religious minister. He also applied for his wife and the couple’s oldest child, who was born outside the country. In 2007, the family received a notice that the US Citizenship and Immigration Services had denied their application. They appealed, but the appeal was rejected in November of 2008. A month later, immigration officials arrested him at his home and led him away in handcuffs in front of his wife and children. He has been held without bail ever since. The case has angered many in the local Houston community, who are rallying to support him with letter-writing campaigns, petitions and websites.

A few days ago, I had a chance to interview Imam Zoubir. He called in from the private immigration prison run by the Corrections Corporation of America, where he is being held. This is his first national broadcast interview. I began by asking him to explain why he’s being held.

    SHEIKH ZOUBIR BOUCHIKHI: I am here because the ICE is charging me with arriving alien. And I am denied bond, because I am under that category, called “arriving alien,” although I have been here in the United States legally for eleven years.

    AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe how you were arrested? Did you have any warning? What are the reasons that they are giving you now? And have you had a hearing since you were jailed?

    SHEIKH ZOUBIR BOUCHIKHI: Yes. The way I was detained, ICE officers came to my home around 6:30 in the morning, and they were waiting for me, because they knew I was at the mosque leading the morning prayer. And they detained me in front of my children, while coming back to the house, and my wife kindly requested them that “Let his children please give him a hug before you take him.” And my hands were handcuffed behind my back, and still they refused even a hug to their father.

    I have—I met—I had the chance to be in front of Judge Benton, who belongs to the immigration circle, but they completely refused to give me a bond or to let me go on my recognizance. And this is where I am.

    AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your own family? How old are your children?

    SHEIKH ZOUBIR BOUCHIKHI: OK. My oldest son is twelve years old, and his younger brother is ten years old. I have another daughter who is eight years old and another daughter who is almost two years old.

    AMY GOODMAN: Are you able to see them?

    SHEIKH ZOUBIR BOUCHIKHI: Yes, I am able, but behind the—between—I cannot see them directly; there is glass between me and them.

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