All you have to do is answer "yes" or "no" to one simple question. Okay, the question is a teeny bit complicated, with 81 words, more subordinate clauses than IRS instructions, and a kicker that could get your terrorist-sympathizing ass kicked out of the country.
But hey, if you're a red-blooded American, then what are you scared of? You Muslim immigrants, on the other hand, might want to pass. Ready? Here it is:
"Have you ever engaged in, conspired to engage in, or do you intend to engage in, or have you ever solicited membership or funds for, or have you through any other means ever assisted or provided funds for, or have you through any other means ever assisted or provided any type of material support to any person or organization that has ever engaged in or conspired to engage in sabotage, kidnapping, political assassination, hijacking or any other form of terrorist activity?"
Of course, you're not a terrorist. You're probably not even an immigrant. And if you were, you wouldn't have a problem with this. Would you?
But wait. Ever sent $20 to the American Civil Liberties Union, which proudly defends all manner of criminal scum, losers, degenerates, and less-than-100-percent Americans? Or to one of the liberal arms of the Methodist, Unitarian-Universalist, Congregationalist, or Baptist churches? Or to an Orthodox synagogue? Or to the Black Panthers or Greenpeace or Students for a Democratic Society back when you were in college? Gotcha.
The question appears on an immigration document called an I-485, a petition for permanent resident alien status in the United States, commonly known as the green card.
If you answer "no" but the government thinks you're lying for whatever reason, it can have the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force investigate you. If it finds that you "have ever engaged in, conspired to engage in, etc.," it can criminally indict you, lock you up, give you a pair of tan prison pajamas, and deport you.
That's what happened last week to 34-year-old Bassam Darwishahmad, or "Sam Darwish" as he was known to his neighbors and acquaintances in Germantown and Collierville where he sold cars and bought and sold houses after fixing them up. He is being deported for his association with a Palestinian group when he was a young man.
Darwishahmad, who is tall, fair-skinned, and reed-thin, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Memphis to one count of making a false statement on the I-485. He was locked up on February 26th. In exchange for his plea, two other counts on his indictment were dropped and he will be immediately deported, never to return legally to the United States. Glancing backward at his Tennessee-bred wife, who was sobbing on the back row of the courtroom, he quietly answered "yes" when U.S. district judge Jon McCalla asked him if he understood the consequences of what he was doing.
Darwishahmad came to the United States in 2001, got married, raised a son, and did not get arrested until this year. The government was prepared to show that as a teenager in Palestine, Darwishahmad was recruited by Fatah, which the U.S. government classifies as a terrorist organization. In 1990, he tossed a grenade-like bomb at a bus of Israelis and threw a Molotov cocktail at Israeli soldiers, later lying that he had only thrown rocks at them. Fatah wanted him to bomb an Israeli police station on the West Bank, but he never did.
Rehim Babaoglu, a Memphis attorney who specializes in immigration cases, said he was not surprised at Darwishahmad's deportation, once the Fatah connection, however long ago, became known. Darwishahmad clinched his fate by lying on the I-485 form. Babaoglu said whether to deport or prosecute "is a policy decision among prosecutors" and varies from state to state. The U.S. Justice Department under President Bush has made immigration violations a priority.
"If they can't get you on a criminal charge, they get you this way," Babaoglu said.
Previous criminal prosecutions of illegal immigrants in Memphis have included a Syrian-American marriage-scam mastermind and a University of Memphis student with an unusual interest in airports, pilot gear, and flying jet planes.
So remember: Right here in Memphis, your government is watching. And think carefully about the forms you sign.
John Branston is a Flyer senior editor.