Egyptian Christian Gets Reprieve from Deportation

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Recently, the family and friends of Sameh Khouzam let out a collective sigh of relief. U.S. District Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie granted the Egyptian national a reprieve from the threat of deportation. Mr. Khouzam, a Coptic Orthodox Christian, fled to the United States from Egypt in 1998 out of fear for his life after he was imprisoned by Egyptian police and “encouraged” to convert to Islam; he claims that in one instance he was beaten and sexually assaulted in a police station. When he reached the U.S., however, he was detained after his visitor’s visa was revoked due to an unsubstantiated claim by the Egyptian government that he had killed a woman, who is believed to actually still be alive.

Despite Mr. Khouzam’s application for religious asylum and his insistence that he would be tortured should he return to Egypt, in May of 2007 he was told that he would be deported due to “diplomatic assurances” given by Egypt to the U.S. State Department that Mr. Khouzam would not be tortured. This, despite the 2004 decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York which stated explicitly that Mr. Kouzam “will more likely than not be tortured if he is deported to Egypt.”1 Thankfully, Judge Vanaskie recognized the danger that Mr. Khouzam faced as a member of the persecuted Coptic Orthodox Church, and believed that the United States could not allow the torture of a human being for the sake of diplomatic relations with a country that has long used beatings, electric shock, and other tortures and threats of torture against its own citizens.2

Unfortunately, this is only a stay of removal, and the fate of Mr. Khouzam remains uncertain. It is still possible that he will be sent back to Egypt and face torture or death for his Christian beliefs. And this fear is not irrational: the persecution of Copts in Egypt continues-both covertly and overtly. This Christian minority has little representation in the Egyptian government, holding only around 1 percent of the seats in the People’s Assembly, while making up 6-14 percent of the total population of Egypt.3 Between January 1 and 3 of 2000, Muslim villagers killed twenty-one Coptic men, women and children in Al-Kosheh and the nearby villages of Dar as-Salam and Awlad Tog Gareb, while police forces stood by and did nothing.4 Even more recently, Muslim rioters, encouraged by lack of police involvement in previous violence, attacked Copts, their businesses and their churches.

If the United States government deports Mr. Khouzam when it knows full well that Egypt has little compunction about the torture and abuse of Christians, then it gives its tacit approval to the inevitable fate of Mr. Khouzam. At a time when our government is pushing for amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants against the will of the people, they ignore this one refugee who, like many American immigrants in centuries past, is fleeing religious persecution. The United States cannot condone a deportation that goes against the very ideals upon which our country was founded, nor can it turn a blind eye to the human rights violations perpetuated against Coptic Christians, and others, in Egypt.

Caitlin DeMarco is an intern in the Ronald Reagan Memorial Internship Program at Concerned Women for America. She is assigned to the Beverly LaHaye Institute.

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