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In Rare Move, U.S. Seeks To Strip Citizenship Of Columbia Man Who Violated Iraq Sanctions

Joe Gratz
Creative Commons-Flickr

Federal officials are moving to strip the naturalization of a U.S. citizen who pleaded guilty several years ago to sending more than $1 million to Iraq in violation of U.S. sanctions.

Mubarak Ahmed Hamed, 61, was sentenced to 58 months in federal prison. He was released from a facility in Texarkana, Texas, in August 2016.

The Columbia, Missouri, resident and native of Sudan was executive director of the Islamic American Relief Agency (IARA), which was based in Columbia and served as the U.S. office of the Islamic Relief Agency based in Khartoum, Sudan.

In 2004, the U.S. Treasury designated IARA as a global terrorist organization. In July 2010, IARA, which has since been dissolved, itself pleaded guilty to transferring more than $1.4 million to Iraq in defiance of U.S. sanctions. 

It’s not clear why the government is moving now to denaturalize Hamed, who entered the U.S. on an F-1 student visa and later secured permanent resident status through the diversity visa lottery program.

But President Donald Trump has said he wants to get rid of the program, claiming it has allowed terrorists to enter the country. In a speech to Congress in February 2017, Trump said “the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.”

In a pair of Twitter posts last month, Trump cited a report jointly released by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security finding that nearly three out of four people convicted of international terrorism from 9/11 through 2016 were foreign born. The report, however, does not include individuals convicted of domestic terrorism – and Trump in his speech to Congress made no distinction between international and domestic terrorism.

In a news release announcing the denaturalization complaint against Hamed, the Justice Department cited the same report and included this statement from Attorney General Jeff Sessions:

“This alleged denaturalization case is indicative that America needs this reform to our broken immigration system now more than ever. Under the guise of running a non-profit to assist in the famine crises in Africa, a ‘Diversity Visa’ recipient allegedly transferred funds on a regular basis to a known terrorist, undermining our nation’s lawful immigration system, public safety, and national security.

“Immigration is a national security issue, and a merit-based immigration system would better serve our national interest because it would benefit the American people.”

It’s fairly rare for the government to try to revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens. Unlike natural-born U.S. citizens, whose citizenship can only be revoked voluntarily, the government must prove a defendant meets the criteria for denaturalization. Once a person is denaturalized, he is subject to deportation.

According to the complaint against Hamed, he arrived in the U.S. in 1990 and became executive director of IARA in 1991. In 1994, after getting an immigrant visa through the diversity visa lottery program, he sought lawful permanent residence, which he obtained the next year. His naturalization application was approved in 2000.

The government alleges he should be stripped of his citizenship because he falsely swore under oath during his naturalization proceedings that he had never knowingly committed a crime for which he had not been arrested.

Hamed was one of four IARA officials who entered guilty pleas and served prison sentences.

A former Republican congressman, Rep. Mark Siljander of southwest Michigan, was also ensnared in the investigation of the charity and pleaded guilty in Kansas City in 2010 to serving as an unregistered agent for IARA.

Siljander admitted that he lobbied to lift restriction on IARA and then lied about his work to investigators. He was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison. 

Unlike other immigration-related proceedings, which take place in immigration court, denaturalization complaints are filed in federal court. In this case, the complaint against Hamed was filed in federal court in Jefferson City.

Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

As a reporter covering breaking news and legal affairs, I want to demystify often-complex legal issues in order to expose the visible and invisible ways they affect people’s lives. I cover issues of justice and equity, and seek to ensure that significant and often under-covered developments get the attention they deserve so that KCUR listeners and readers are equipped with the knowledge they need to act as better informed citizens. Email me at dan@kcur.org.
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