Moroccan American Officer faces deportation after Afghan service

Highly decorated sergeant ordered to stand trial
Anti-discrimination committee protests

Ed Pilkington in New York
Monday December 3, 2007
The Guardian

A highly decorated Moroccan-American sergeant in the US army, who is currently serving as a paratrooper in Afghanistan, faces deportation on his return to the United States because of an irregularity in his immigration papers.
Sgt Hicham Benkabbou has been served with an order to stand trial for deportation as soon as he arrives home, despite the fact that he has been on active service in Afghanistan for almost two years with the 508th parachute infantry regiment, known as the Red Devils.

His lawyers say his treatment illustrates the harsh justice meted out to Arab-Americans by the US immigration authorities.
Benkabbou came to the US from Morocco in 1987, and was granted permanent residency four years ago. But when he applied to become a naturalised US citizen in 2005 – by which time he was already serving in the army – immigration officials discovered that he had failed to register his first marriage and alleged that the ceremony had been arranged fraudulently to get him into the country.

Benkabbou says that the marriage was annulled and argues it is therefore irrelevant to his immigration status. “I do not think I deserve to get deported after serving honourably during a time of war!” he wrote in an email from Afghanistan.

“I can read, write and speak Arabic, French and English. I have earned the respect and confidence of my superiors and I shall be a great asset for our country if given the opportunity to become a US citizen.”

His case has been taken up by the Association of Patriotic Arab Americans in the Military, which represents up to 3,500 Arab-Americans serving in the armed forces. The anti-discrimination committee for Arab-Americans, ADC, has also protested.

“This is a very disturbing case. This man has been serving our nation, putting his life on the line on behalf of America. This is a setback to attempts to encourage recruitment to the military,” said the ADC’s Imad Hamad.

The aggressive prosecution of the case has surprised immigration lawyers who point to a directive that advises officials against pressing to deport acting military personnel unless they have been involved in drug trafficking, crimes against children or violence, or unless they pose a danger to the public.

Benkabbou’s irregularity over his marriage falls into no such categories.

His lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia, Paul Ford, said the only explanation he could find was that his client was a Muslim, “which sets off all the buzzers. There is no question that Arab-Americans are given a totally different treatment.”

Ford said that Benkabbou had been accused of being a terrorist by officials from the immigration enforcement agency, ICE. “In court, ICE lawyers called Morocco a terrorist country, which I found astonishing.”

A spokesman for the US citizenship and immigration services said that under privacy laws the department could not discuss individual cases. But he added that in general, “if someone is placed in deportation proceedings, that is not the end of the process. If the case involves someone serving in the military we will look at it very closely.

“We understand the service of those who put themselves in harm’s way to preserve the rights in this country that they do not themselves yet enjoy.”

Several commanding officers have offered support to Benkabbou. Lieutenant Colonel Peterman said: “It is not an understatement to say that Sgt Benkabbou has been instrumental in sustaining the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment during this combat deployment to Afghanistan. He is a leader, a problem solver, and possesses the physical gifts of a US paratrooper.”



  1. 1
    You know who Says:

    Mr. Benkabbou is guilty as charged. Mr. Benkabbou omits certain data from his statement which would implicate him.

    If you break the law, and then perform honorable service, does that wipe the slate clean?

  2. 2
    a 16 year vet. Says:

    The law is not black and white. It is various shades of grey that judge each offense and mitigating circumstances. Otherwise we would have one punishment for everything. In this case, yes, I think his slate is wiped clean and then some. He is serving, in war, for the US. What have you done for your country?

  3. 3
    James Nyton Says:

    Winning the battle in afganistan is almost impossibble without Afgan themselves help . A lesson to be learned.

  4. 4
    James Nyton Says:

    A spokesman for the US citizenship and immigration services said that under privacy laws the department could not discuss individual cases. But he added that in general, “if someone is placed in deportation proceedings, that is not the end of the process. What is for.

  5. 5
    You Know Who Said This Says:

    16 Year Vet…You know not what you speak of…

    Mr. Benkabbou is guilty. Otherwise, why would ICE puruse him?

    Many men have performed honorable acts and service their country. But the law is the law. There is always room for reasonable doubt which would exonorate him if he were innocent. IF that is the case then he will win his right to stay in this country and will not be deported. Just becuase he served for this country does not give him the right to stay here if he defrauded the USA in the first place.

    Remember where the US military looks first to send troops over…
    the brig and those who are entlisted and already detained, then reserves, then the active duty.

    The US military and government pics its detainees and sends them over. Where was Mr. Benkabbou before his trip overseas.
    Do you think this is a new issue for him?

    Check this newsreport out…

    Mr. Benkabbou went overseas mid year 2006 shortly after this came out.

    How can any honorable, self respecting US citizen condone a man who defrauded other citizens, and the USA for God only knows what deceitful, evil intent. You have heard of sleeper cells haven’t you.

    The biggest terrorist act would be to infiltrate the US military and divulge secrets from the inside out.
    Our government has the right to pursue potential terroists through Counter Terroism Measures and ensure they are put out of our country.

    I know I feel safe that ICE and the US are protecting us.

    God Love the USA.

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