Local Muslim leader battling to remain in U.S.
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One of the leaders of the Pittsburgh Muslim community is being detained by U.S. customs and immigration officials who are preparing to deport him to Turkey, though he has lived in Pittsburgh since 1988 and raised three children here.
Unless a pending appeal is successful, Imam Kadir Gunduz, 48, and his wife, Saime, of Texdale Street, Beechview, will be deported, potentially leaving behind their children, all of whom are U.S. citizens, the eldest wheelchair bound.
"It's a mess," said Robert Whitehill, a Pittsburgh attorney who is representing the Gunduzes as well as the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh where Imam Gunduz is a member of the clergy.
Imam Gunduz is believed to be in custody at the York County Prison, under the control of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security. He was arrested Dec. 4, his attorney said. A bond hearing that would allow him to come home pending his appeal will be held in York before an immigration judge Wednesday.
A news release from the Islamic Center describes Imam Gunduz as "an outstanding community leader who has striven to uphold the law and conduct himself in the most exemplary manner befitting a Muslim -- a Muslim leader, no less."
Saime Gunduz, who has been in the United States since 1989, said yesterday she is "hanging in there." The couple's children are 16, 13 and 10.
Imam Gunduz's case began in 1988 when he came to the United States as a student at the University of Pittsburgh. Though he would have been required to return to his home for two years as a condition of the kind of visa he held, he received a waiver because of the "extreme hardship" that would have been suffered by his son, Tarek, who is ill with a physical and mental disability, according to Mr. Whitehill.
In the mid-1990s, Imam Gunduz became a member of the clergy at the Islamic Center in Oakland.
In September 2000, the Islamic Center filed a request on Imam Gunduz's behalf, asking that he be allowed to remain in the United States as a religious worker. It was approved by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services in February 2002. Then, Imam Gunduz applied in April 2002 for his green card, which would allow him and his wife permanent residency in the United States.
At some point in the process, the USICE determined that the original visa had been violated, alleging that Imam Gunduz had worked in the United States without having a work visa. He paid a $1,000 fine in 2004.
The green card application still was pending, however, and Imam Gunduz continued to work on a temporary employment authorization. Ultimately, that authorization expired and his application for renewal languished.
He filed a federal lawsuit in June asking that his green card application be decided and the employment authorization reissued.
In August, the employment authorization was reissued, but last month, the initial religious worker approval given to the Islamic Center in 2002 was revoked and Imam Gunduz's green card application was denied.
"We don't concede that he did anything wrong," Mr. Whitehill said. "But, assuming the allegation from [customs and immigration] is accurate and there was a technical violation of his original visa, it is entirely forgivable under U.S. immigration law. He has never done anything criminal or untoward."
Pittsburgh attorney Joel Pfeffer, an immigration lawyer with Meyer, Unkovic & Scott who serves on the Religious Workers Committee of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said Imam Gunduz's story sounds familiar.
"This kind of thing is happening more and more," he said. "There seems to be an approach now that all these religious workers' cases are frauds."
Mr. Whitehill said his client has broad ecumenical backing. Three segments of the Pittsburgh religious community have written letters on his behalf: Rabbi James Gibson of Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill, the Rev. Ron Lengwin, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, and the Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania.
First Published December 17, 2007 12:00 am