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Focus of US fear: A legal refugee is recast as enemy

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 5, 2002


For Cameran Sadeq, a new life was beginning in America, just as his adopted country was falling apart.

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In late October last year, he'd gotten married. At a time when most Americans were avoiding travel, he'd ventured here from his Detroit home to wed the woman he'd fallen in love with by a desert well long ago – and then lost for eight years.

In early November, he was about to get a truck-driving job in America that would move him beyond the valet's wages he'd lived on for more than a year. While a nation looked warily at crop-dusters and trembled to open the mail, Mr. Sadeq neared the life he'd imagined since he was a 12-year-old playing soccer on the earthen streets of Kurdish Iraq.

Indeed, every day, he was also getting closer to what originally brought him to America: citizenship.

For the safety of that citizenship, he'd left his family in Iraq, and wandered for a decade across the Middle East – through a refugee camp in Syria where he'd meet his future bride, to Lebanon and Cyprus, where he lost track of her – and eventually to the haven of refugee status in the US.

After a lifetime spent seeking safety, citizenship would ensure that he'd never be sent back to Iraq, where – for opposing Saddam Hussein – bullets whizzed by his ears like summer flies and his brothers had their bodies wrenched and minds broken by torture.

Last fall, Sadeq wasn't ignorant of what was going on around him. Like the rest of America, he'd seen the names and faces of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers – Arab men who, to the suspicious eye of a fearful public, looked like Sadeq, with his dark brow and mustache. Like the rest of America, too, he'd watched in horror as their actions unfolded – moved to grief by those widowed and orphaned on that September Tuesday.

Yet, Sadeq refused even to consider that America could cast him as an enemy in its new war on terror. He'd lived with such fear before – of the Iraqi Army, of the Syrian police – and he'd always gone about his life. That's why he didn't think much about deciding to take a quick driving vacation to Miami with two fellow Iraqi refugees in early November – a sunny lark to visit the girlfriend of one of them.

It seemed like an inconsequential leg of his wanderings. But it would be the end of his meticulously planned dreams.

More than Hussein's bullets, more than the threat of torture and death that forced him to flee his homeland, it was what happened in Florida, Sadeq says, that "destroyed my life."

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The three men arrived in the predawn darkness of Nov. 4 at the port of Miami where they were to rendezvous with the girlfriend, a Latvian waitress on a cruise ship. The gates were closed, but they felt no hesitation about approaching a security guard to get in, says Sadeq.

At a time when any potentially unusual activity – especially by those who looked like Arabs – was seen as a portent of terror, the moment had a suspicious feel: Three dark-skinned men inquiring in broken English about how to enter the port before it opened.

Told the port opened at 8, they said they'd have breakfast and return. But before they made it across the highway connecting the port to the mainland, a police car stopped them. As many as a dozen more followed. The three were handcuffed, searched, and photographed.

Pressed to recollect the moment, Sadeq now responds only with thinly veiled disgust. He told the police what he was doing there, but they obviously didn't trust him: "They said they were waiting for the FBI. I said, 'I don't care if we are waiting for George Bush, I've got nothing to hide.' "

The wait was only just beginning.

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