Even After Today's Hearing, More Question Than Answers in Imam's Arrest

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Imam Safdar Razi Ali

Safdar Razi Ali appeared in federal court in Dallas today, but his case is long from over. The local imam was arrested on immigration charges at his Plano home on April 2 -- one day, says his lawyer, Iman Abdelhadi, before he was to be interviewed for asylum status. Ali first entered the United States in 1998 on a religious worker visa, and quickly gained prominence as a Shiite scholar who preached acceptance.

Ali’s family and lawyer still have little clue as to why Ali was detained, and today’s master docket hearing -- which took place more than two hours later than scheduled -- didn’t provide many more answers. Since Ali is in custody at the Rolling Plains Detention Center in Haskell, he appeared in Judge Anthony Rogers’ courtroom on a TV monitor, while his wife and children and a friend from their Plano mosque sat on court benches.

Ali was quiet, allowing his lawyers, Karen Pennington and Abdelhadi to speak on his behalf. (Pennington says she has since been taken off the case; Abdelhadi is now lead counsel.)

“I don’t think he was properly put into proceedings,” Pennington argued, saying that Ali’s pending asylum application should protect him from deportation. Judge Rogers disagreed.

Pennington also maintained that something beyond Ali’s immigration status brought him to the attention of the government. She later said that, while in custody, Ali had been questioned for at least eight hours without legal counsel present.

Abdelhadi agreed. “Their behavior indicates that there is something else going on. You don’t have six police officers swarm a little old man,” she said after the hearing, referring to Ali’s arrest. “It seems inappropriate.”

With little information at hand, Pennington and Abdhelhadi requested to reset the hearing date in order to find out whether Ali will be granted asylum, and to further investigate the cause of his arrest. Judge Rogers pushed the date to April 15 at 9 a.m.

Family and friends, meanwhile, remained perplexed and fearful. As a Shiite leader who spoke out against Sunni-spread violence in the Middle East, Ali could likely become a target if he is deported to Pakistan. “He will get killed,” said Ali Abbas, a friend from Ali’s Plano mosque, after the trial. “I’m telling you, point blank.” --Naomi Zeveloff

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