March 18, 2009

Imam requests bail hearing

From this morning's Houston Chronicle is a follow-up story about a jailed Houston area Imam.

Sheikh Zoubir Bouchikhi put his palm to the glass separating him from his 18-month-old daughter at a Houston immigrant detention facility and blew her kiss after kiss, his eyes brimming with tears.

The bewildered toddler touched the window as her older sister picked up a telephone handset to talk to their father for the first time since his arrest at their home three months ago.

“Baba,” said 7-year-old Bushra, using the Arabic word for Daddy. “Are you ever going to come back?”

Bouchikhi, the popular spiritual leader of a southeast Houston mosque, has been held without bail at the facility since Dec. 17. In an interview this week, the 39-year-old imam of Houston’s Abu Bakr Siddqui mosque said he planned to start a hunger strike today to protest the government’s refusal to release him on bail while he awaits a deportation hearing.

“I feel that this is an injustice,” Bouchikhi said. “It’s absolutely outrageous what they are doing, so if they don’t release me I will bring the attention of the whole world to my case.”

The imam said he has faith in the American justice system, “but I think certain government agencies are not really doing justice to themselves, let alone to me.”

Bouchikhi is a native of Algeria who came to America 11 years ago as a student. He later obtained a religious worker visa and applied for permanent residency status for himself, his wife and oldest child. Bouchikhi’s other three children are American-born citizens.

A green card petition on the imam’s behalf by the Islamic Society of Greater Houston was accepted in 2003, but revoked in 2007.


Elliot Gershenson, president and CEO of Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, wrote a letter on the imam’s behalf.

“Based on everything we know about this man he’s an honorable man, he’s a faith leader in his community,” Gershenson said. “He’s not a flight risk, and we recommended that he be able to stay with his family.”

Bouchikhi said he has written President Barack Obama about his plight.

“Criminals are being bonded, while a man of God, whose community needs him, whose wife and children need him, is being held without bond. It makes no sense,” the imam said.

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