Stand Firm for Justice
Hemza Lefsih's Thoughts on our Recent Immigration Victory

by Jeannine Sherman
Thursday 29, 2022

I first learned about Hemza Lefsih’s case during Ramadan of this year. I remember discussing the details with my family, asking ourselves how it was possible that someone could go to jail and almost get deported for misunderstanding the definition of citation on an administrative question. 

 

If you look into false statement charges, you’ll read that they should only apply when it’s clear that it was someone’s intention to lie. This was clearly not the case for Hemza.

 

On Saturday, September 17th at 6:45am, after 12 years of dealing with absurd immigration practices, Hemza Lefsih took his oath of citizenship. 

 

I had the privilege of speaking with Hemza about his experience from start to finish. He was a step away from citizenship in 2015. He was called in for an interview shortly before he should have initially taken his citizenship oath. Then he was charged with having made a false statement and spent two and a half years in federal custody. He faced criminal charges and was nearly deported. 

 

During our conversation this week, he stated that he had actually asked during one of multiple interviews whether traffic tickets were included in this question – he was told no. Mr. Lefsih feels like this was personal, that authorities were determined to find a way to deny his application. His experience reminds us of the CARRP immigration policies – Hemza is certainly not the only one to go through unreasonable and discriminatory immigration delays.

 

In spite of all of this, Hemza was joyful when I spoke with him, immediately cracking jokes, open and engaging. I expected more cynicism. This is a person who loves this country and who STILL believes that justice will be served here. I’m so grateful that MLFA played such a crucial role in ultimately obtaining Hemza Lefsih’s U.S. citizenship.

 

I asked him if he felt any different with a U.S. passport. He replied, “It’s definitely different – it’s another type of freedom, being free… Can you imagine that you don’t have to deal with USCIS anymore? … I was locked, physically, initially, for almost three years… I was locked physically and then locked psychologically. So you would feel as an immigrant first, and then as a targeted immigrant. So you would feel that you are locked and watched and in a sphere of restraint. You are not free… You are under the hammer, under the threat of deporting you for any reason. However, now you have nothing to do with USCIS for any reason, and that’s a big relief. It’s like a sigh of relief, saying, ‘Wow, I’m done with you guys. It has not been a pleasure.’”

 

Hemza also described the inhumane conditions of immigration detention centers, especially the one he was moved to in Alabama. He insisted that Congress needs to know about the conditions that were not good enough even for animals, that they were hungry all the time, among other hardships. He believes that Congress “would be shocked such a thing existed in the land of the free.” 

 

I asked Hemza about why he didn’t give up.

 

“That’s a very good question because many, actually, especially during my wrongful incarceration, many told me the same exact question… ‘Why do you have to fight and stay?’ 

 

To me, it’s bigger than that. It’s, first of all, a question of fighting for your rights. You shouldn’t give up in life. In life, I have a principle that I don’t give up when somebody takes away my rights. Even though it could be actually easier for me or even better. I always say, if I don’t fight, who’s gonna fight? If I give up and if others give up, the system would be emboldened to do whatever they want.

 

When you have the problem of institutional bigotry and institutional racism, it would be really hard to uncover such a thing because they are very meticulous and very powerful. It only takes a few cases to uncover this problem that we have in America.

 

I’ll always answer, I should fight. Because if I didn’t, who would?

 

That kept me going. I was wronged; I was on the right side. What did I do to deserve such a thing? Of course this wasn’t easy. But every sacrifice needed patience and courage. And if you look at the history, all these great men and women who changed the course of history – they were patient, and they had to go through intense and difficult moments – even years of their life.

 

That’s what kept me going, this confidence and this belief in justice – that’s what kept me going until last week”. He laughed after this, so good-natured about what he’s been through. 

 

“Thankfully, during my second trial… alhamdulilah, we prevailed. We were acquitted unanimously by a journey – so the jury, twelve American people.. I would like to emphasize this. If I’m free today, I am freed by the people. That’s what I like the most about America as an idea, as an ideal. It’s America build by the people, to the people, from the people. And this jury system is one of the most important ideas and values that we have in this country, as long as it is not twisted or misused…

 

I believe that America is the land of the brave, truly, because I met brave attorneys. They don’t get intimidated. They believe in justice, and they fight for justice. That’s what inspires confidence, first to love this country… I am a citizen today because men and women fought for me.”

 

I reached out to Hemza after our conversation to ask a question we hadn’t had time to discuss – what was the role of your faith throughout this difficult experience. His response was something like poetry – I’ll share it here as inspiration insha Allah. 

 

“The role of my faith during the turmoils I went through is like the role of the

shining sun to the planet earth when it supplies it with light and warmth.

 

It’s like the role of water to the fish when it nourishes it with life.

It’s the role of a lighthouse leading the sailing ship to the shore.

 

My faith is the inexhaustible source of hope that kept me going despite all

attempts to break me and push me to give up.

 

My faith teaches me to stand for Justice, speak the truth to power,

and fight back against bigotry in all its shapes and forms.

 

Quran 5:135: “ O believers! Stand firm for justice as witnesses for Allah

even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or close relatives. Be they rich

or poor, Allah is best to ensure their interests. So do not let your desires

cause you to deviate ˹from justice˺. If you distort the testimony or refuse to

give it, then ˹know that˺ Allah is certainly All-Aware of what you do.”

 

My faith was my loyal companion in the cold cells of injustice,

my wise counselor during times of doubt, and my inextinguishable torch

enlightening my way during times of darkness.

 

It is true that my hands were tied,

my feet were shackled,

and my body was imprisoned,

 

But my faith was in my heart,

and my heart was with my lord,

And my Lord is The Almighty whose might is above all earthly mights.”