Even from jail in southern Arizona, Yaser Alamoodi is campaigning. But the 29-year-old Saudi, who was student government president last year at Arizona State University, is not running for office or fighting a ballot proposition. He’s fighting to stay in the U.S.
“It definitely is an experience that I do not wish upon any of my enemies,” Alamoodi said by phone from a federal detention center in Eloy, about 60 miles south of the Valley where he awaits a deportation hearing.
Alamoodi was arrested earlier this month after his wife, Joy Hepp, who had sponsored his citizenship application, filed for divorce and revoked her sponsorship, said both Alamoodi and Russell Ahr, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
This violated Alamoodi’s immigration criteria, so federal agents picked him up Sept. 6, Ahr said.
Hepp could not be reached for comment. Neither Ahr nor Alamoodi knew when Hepp withdrew her sponsorship, but Maricopa County Superior Court records show she filed for divorce Aug. 28.
From jail, Alamoodi said he is heartbroken and still doesn’t understand his wife’s actions, but he wants to address broader issues.
He is “part of a struggle” now, he said.
Though he considers himself a “very, very secular Muslim,” Alamoodi believes immigration laws are selectively used to target Arab and Muslim immigrants.
Deedra Abboud, director of Muslim American Society-Freedom Foundation Arizona, is helping Alamoodi and said his case may hinge on that very idea.
Alamoodi applied for citizenship in 2003, when he was married to Hepp, and three years later, his application had yet to be processed.
“We’re finding that Arabs and Muslim are taking between five and 10 years for an . . . application to be processed,” Abboud said. “And we’re only finding this for Muslims and Arabs.”
The lawyer helping Alamoodi, Eric Bjotvedt, will make this point during Alamoodi’s hearing, Abboud said.
Since his arrest, Alamoodi said he has been questioned by agents about whether he has terrorist connections, even though he says he is liberal and terrorists are extreme conservatives.
“They were asking me what kind of countries had I visited, why had I visited them. They were asking me if I knew of any plots to do damage or anything,” Alamoodi said.
Ahr doesn’t know if these questions were posed to Alamoodi but said it’s not uncommon for agents to ask them of Middle Eastern immigrants.
In 2004, before the U.S. presidential debate at ASU, Alamoodi volunteered with other local Muslims to be interviewed by the FBI. The bureau was then questioning thousands of Arabs and Muslims nationwide, who it said were not suspected in any crimes, to determine if they knowingly or otherwise had information about terrorist plots.
Alamoodi is a political science and religious studies major at ASU. He was elected as student body president for the 2005-06 school year, but resigned in January, citing personal financial concerns.
He said he was scheduled to graduate this December.
For now, while he waits for his hearing — likely in about two weeks, Ahr said — Alamoodi is coping with his situation.
“That person ended up pulling the carpet from beneath me,” he said of his wife. “It’s sad, it’s disappointing, it’s heartbreaking. . . . But I’m just trying to get through it right now, to survive.”