Is the ISIS-Supporting Imam Deportable? WaPo Does Not Ask

By David North, October 13, 2016

The Washington Post (and the FBI) have both reviewed the strange case of a Maryland-based imam who is said to have publicly supported ISIS and to have "celebrated ISIS killings and immolations on Facebook", to quote the Post's article, which is titled "Md. imam who backs ISIS is at the heart of terrorism probe".

Suleiman Anwar Bengharsa is the cleric in question. And while the freedom of speech doctrine may cover his advocacy of Muslim extremism, there are other matters, such as this, again from the Post:

Another question is how Bengharsa, who told a judge four years ago that he had no job and no income, got more than $900,000. The search warrants claim the money was wire-transferred into his account from an unnamed source and that Bengharsa transferred part of the sum to an unnamed individual in Yemen.

The imam has not been indicted for anything and the Post report wonders why.

The article, however, unwittingly raises a question that it does not address (or even mention): Is the imam deportable as an illegal alien?

If he is, there are no freedom of speech problems, or any need for an indictment. The fact that he is here illegally could — if that is the case, and if the government cared enough — cause his deportation.

In my reading of the long (more than two full columns) Post story I noticed two items that were not linked by the reporter, Justin Jouvenal.

First, in a throwaway line, in the next to last paragraph, we find that the imam grew up in Tripoli, Libya. That strongly suggests, but does not prove, that he is foreign-born. All foreign-born persons are subject to deportation, though that rarely happens if they have become naturalized citizens. The reporter, as all too many do, failed to describe the imam's immigration status.

Second, and even more significantly, the iman lost a four-week-old job when his employer, a Muslim organization, fired him, in part, because the employer told the Post "he did not provide the proper government documents for employment."

The employer was Rashid Iqbal, president of the Annapolis, Md., unit of the Islamic Society of America. (My efforts to reach Iqbal on the phone have been in vain.) One of the possibilities is that Bengharsa had the documents, but for ideological reasons, did not present them. Or maybe he was simply careless. But another possibility is that he lacks legal status, and thus would be eligible for deportation simply on those grounds. The Post did not ask.

The matter of his possible illegal status is complicated by the fact that he had, at some point before 2012, worked for the U.S. Commerce Department — a job he lost when he was accused of plagiarism. It is perfectly possible that he had a nonimmigrant visa at the time that allowed him to work for Commerce, which has since expired. It is also possible that a small, but very careful Islamic organization screens its alien workers with more care now than Commerce did then.

If he is here illegally, why hasn't he been deported? Surely the FBI, which has investigated him at some length, knows his status. It strikes me that there are several possibilities:

  • The administration is loathe to deport anyone; or
  • A conscious decision has been made not to deport him, as he might cause more harm in Libya than he does here; or
  • The government is building a case that would send him to jail, and does not want to deport him before it can complete the case; or
  • No one has thought of it.

If developments occur in this case, we will report them.