Sitting in her Englewood home, Fatiha Elgharib sobbed when asked what she will do if immigration officials follow through on their pledge to deport her, separating her from her two daughters and disabled teenage son for whom she is the primary caregiver.
“I might as well die,” said Elgharib, 58.
She came to the U.S. legally from Morocco in 1995 but was ordered deported in 2007 for over-staying her visa. She says she thought her immigration status was being handled by an attorney and mail ordering her to court went to an old address.
“The court did my final deportation without my knowledge,” she said.
But after years of leniency — and intervention by the late U.S. Sen. George Voinovich — immigration officials have ordered her to come to a hearing Sept. 6 where she expects to be given a date to leave her family unless something can be done.
FROM THE ARCHIVE: Children fight to keep their mother in the U.S.
“They have nothing on me,” she said. “I am not a criminal. Nothing. We followed the rules. I follow American law. I follow everything. I don’t know why they come to me.”
Next to her sat her 15-year-old son Sami Hamdi, who is a U.S. citizen and has Down syndrome and other health issues; he was hospitalized at Dayton Children’s Hospital for two days in July. Elgharib says Morocco doesn’t have health facilities Sami needs, but taking care of him is her life.
The boy speaks only short sentences — his favorite band: Justin Beiber; his favorite wrestler: John Cena — and it’s unclear if he understands the situation.
“I can’t take him and I can’t leave him,” she said.
Elgharib’s other children are desperately trying to prevent losing her.
“We can’t keep our mother,” said Wafaa Hamdi, her 18-year-old daughter who is a U.S. citizen, Northmont graduate and currently attends Wright State University.
“She does everything. That’s what moms are supposed to do. Immigration wants to take that from us,” Wafaa said.
Wafaa is trying to get the attention and mercy of federal lawmakers. She started a Change.org petition asking U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown to intervene. Nearly 80,000 people have signed it so far.
Officials with Brown’s office said the family contacted the office and Brown’s staff has reached out to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for information on the case.
I-Team analysis: Deportations dropped in Ohio under Obama; here’s why
Officials from ICE responded to questions about Elgharib’s case with a statement saying the case has “undergone exhaustive judicial review at multiple levels of the nation’s courts.”
“In each review, the courts have uniformly held that Ms. El Gharib does not have a legal basis to remain in the U.S.,” the agency said. “In an exercise of discretion, the agency has allowed her to remain free from custody while timely finalizing her departure plans, rather than be detained and deported.”
Elgharib’s other daughter, Sara Hamdi, 27, is in the U.S. on the deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) program.
Youssef Hamdi, Elgharib’s husband and the children’s father, also has no legal status. His family said bureaucracy has left him in limbo for a decade after he ran into the same problem as his wife and applied for legal status.
Sara said her parents came to America to seek a better life for their children. She pleads for lawmakers or someone outside of ICE to take a look at their case, saying it’s clear her mother did nothing wrong.
“We just want a chance,” she said.
MORE FROM THIS REPORTER: