OH: NO PLACE TO CALL HOME
An immigration agent called Maha Dakar to his office a few weeks ago and told her the time had come to make a choice.
Dakar began to weep.
The choice was simple, yet impossible: leave behind her Green Township home, her four young daughters and her husband and move to Jordan alone, or take the girls with her and subject them to a new and frightening life in a country they'd never seen.
Her husband was not permitted to go with her. She was not permitted to stay.
How could she decide, Dakar asked, when neither choice would keep her family together?
How could any mother do such a thing?
The sympathetic immigration agent gave Dakar a reprieve that day, but it will be short. She must report to him again in August with a plan to leave the country by October.
"We are willing to leave, but we want to leave as a family," Dakar said last week. "We have no future because we don't know where we will be."
The family is on the verge of being split because of a rare combination of bad luck and uncompromising immigration laws, both in the United States and at least a half dozen countries around the world.
As Palestinians born in Kuwait, both Dakar and her husband, Bassam Garadah, are considered "stateless."
In other words, they have no country to go home to.
Dakar carries a Jordanian passport and can be deported to that country. Garadah, who carries only Egyptian travel documents, cannot go with her or move anywhere else.
The couple came to America legally in 1997, they have permission to work and pay taxes, they report monthly to immigration officials and they have filed the paperwork necessary to obtain U.S. citizenship.
Unlike many of the 200,000 people facing deportation from the United States each year, Dakar and her family did not break any law.
They were deemed deportable after the courts rejected their application for political asylum, a decision that does not bar them from seeking citizenship but limits their time to do so.
It's time the couple doesn't have.
A huge backlog in applications means Dakar's request for residency in the United States won't be processed for at least five years, long after she is due to be deported.
"Our government wants people to do things the right, legal way," said Douglas Weigle, the family's attorney. "The only problem is the system is broke."
The system may be flawed, but immigration officials are quick to point out that this case is more challenging than most.
The children - Basma, 9, Yasmine, 8, Rima, 7, and Dana, 5 - were born in America and are U.S. citizens. They can move with their mother or stay with their father.
That, of course, leaves the couple with an agonizing choice.