Home is where the heart is. Home is comfort and security. Imagine having the place you call home not recognized as an actual house, in an actual city and state.
The possibility of this happening sounds far-fetched, but for Palestinians, this is a reality.
Most Palestinians have faced this unfairness for generations because in 1948 they were classified by the U.N. as stateless. A stateless person is stuck in perpetual limbo and is denied the most basic right; having any rights at all. A ‘stateless refugee,’ as they are known, with no rights is left without access to education, property ownership, or employment, and stateless communities are exposed to political manipulation, exploitation and poverty.
Palestinians usually use visas to travel abroad (if and when the Palestinian Authority and Israeli government grants them the ability to travel), and when detained, can never get back home. From late 2008 to 2012, the U.S. Immigration Department tried to deport 17,000 stateless Palestinians, every one of which had to be released back onto the United States because no country would issue visas for them. Most cases don’t have such agreeable endings.
Such as a man in Chicago, Wasef Ibrahim, who after being detained by immigration because he overstayed his visa by 30, cannot get back to Palestine. A year ago he was diagnosed with dementia, and now because of his stateless status, he is stuck in the U.S. with no one to care for him and with no possibility of going home in the near future.
His story, although heartbreaking, is happier than most others.
Faten Al-Hakim lived, undocumented, in the United States for 22 years. In that time she had four natural born American citizen children. One day in 2010, ICE ripped her from her home and small children and detained her. Later, she was sent away to the country of her ancestors; one she had never been to, and one away from her own. Even though Faten was an undocumented immigrant, the United States was her home, it was all she knew. To this day she still fights to get back home; home to her family and be reunited with her children.
Two brothers, originally from Gaza, who lived in Texas faced almost the same fate. They were both taken from their families, and deported to Egypt despite their Stateless status. Egypt would not let them out of the airport and they could not be sent to Gaza because of the Israeli road blockades. So, they are detained indefinitely waiting for a very slim chance of status change.
There is also the story of a young Palestinian man who came into the United States on a student Visa, and was born and raised in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. While in the US he tried to obtain citizenship but was denied. Knowing he would not be able to get citizenship and before a deportation notice was issued, he voluntarily left the country and went back to Saudi Arabia.
While en route, he was detained in Jordan and was denied any further travel because the government 0f Saudi Arabia does not provide residency to Palestinians. In order for Palestinians to reside in Saudi Arabia, the individual must inform the government of their current address or location every year and with him being gone for more than a year at this point. The problem is that he lost rights to the address which he once called home even though most of his family was still there.
For three days while the Jordanian government settled and arranged things with U.S. immigration he sat in the airport. When all things were reviewed it was decided that with his stateless status he could not go any further and was sent back to the United States. At that moment his entire future was up in the air; in a place where, prior to this situation, he worked, paid taxes, supported his family, and had no criminal record of any kind, he now had no right to anything.
By the U.S. accepting him back into the country he was in a proverbial jail. He was treated as a criminal because, by this time, he was considered an illegal alien. As if he had willingly stayed in the country unlawfully, even though he tried to leave but was not able to. He had restrictions on where he could not travel without written documentation, and had to suffer the consequences for something that was not his fault. He didn’t ask to be stateless. Even a jailed criminal had more rights than he did.
This article is not meant to provide statistics and random stories; but instead, it is meant to describe a situation that has had placed tremendous hardship on my family. The story of the young man who came to this country full of dreams and expectations only to be detained and criminalized is of my husband, Hussein Elawawadh.
Millions of Palestinians could have a place to call home, if countries could simply acknowledge them as human beings.