An immigration judge here released an Islamic leader from Pittsburgh on $5,000 bond on Wednesday while he fights an effort to deport him to Turkey after having lived in the United States for 19 years.
The case of the imam, Kadir Gunduz, 48, has upset not only Muslim leaders, but also people of other faiths who say immigration officials have taken a hard line on visa applications for religious workers since the Sept. 11 attacks and look for small errors to start deportation proceedings.
The Rev. Donald Green, executive director of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania, an ecumenical organization that has worked with Mr. Gunduz, said, “Here’s a guy who has tried to follow the process and do things legitimately, and now it seems the government, in its paranoia about religious workers and anyone who is an outsider, wants to deny him the access to permanent residency.”
Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Homeland Security Department, said it was looking more closely at visas for religious workers, but not because of 9/11. “We have given greater scrutiny ever since we conducted a religious-worker review and found a high fraud rate of 33 percent,” said Shawn Saucier, an agency spokesman.
That study was completed in August 2005. Starting in July 2006, the agency began site visits to the sponsoring religious groups. A visit last August was cited in denying Mr. Gunduz’s applications for work authorization and permanent residency.
In the visit, officials said, the agency found that Mr. Gunduz’s status at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, where he is one of two imams, had “changed significantly since the petition was filed” in 2000, court papers show.
In that period, Mr. Gunduz moved from head imam handling administrative duties to directing the chaplaincy program and working with prison and jail inmates, while remaining an imam.
Mr. Gunduz’s lawyer, Robert Whitehill, said the change was a technicality that should not prevent Mr. Gunduz from becoming a permanent resident.