Opinion » Editorial

Let’s Play a Little Game Called I-485 Perjury Trap


All you have to do is answer yes or no to one simple question. OK, the question is a teeny bit complicated, with 81 words, more subordinate clauses than IRS instructions, and a kicker that could get your terrorist-sympathizing ass kicked out of the country.

But, hey, if you’re a red-blooded American then what are you scared of? You Muslim immigrants, on the other hand, might want to pass. Ready? Here it is:

“Have you ever engaged in, conspired to engage in, or do you intend to engage in, or have you ever solicited membership or funds for, or have you through any other means ever assisted or provided funds for, or have you through any other means ever assisted or provided any type of material support to any person or organization that has ever engaged in or conspired to engage in sabotage, kidnapping, political assassination, hijacking or any other form of terrorist activity?”

Of course you’re not a terrorist. You’re probably not even an immigrant. And if you were, you wouldn’t have a problem with this. Would you?

But wait. Ever sent $20 to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which proudly defends all matter of criminal scum, losers, degenerates, and less-than-100-percent Americans? Or to one of the liberal arms of the Methodist, Unitarian-Universalist, Congregationalist, or Baptist churches? Or to an Orthodox Synagogue? Or to the Black Panthers or Greenpeace or Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) back when you were in college?


The question appears on an immigration document called an I-485, a petition for permanent resident alien status in the United States.

If you answer “no” but the government thinks you’re lying for whatever reason, it can have the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force investigate you. If it finds that you “have ever engaged in, conspired to engage in, etc.,” it can criminally indict you, lock you up, give you a pair of tan prison pajamas and deport you.

That’s what happened this week to 34-year-old Bassam Darwishahmad, or “Sam Darwish” as he was known to his neighbors and acquaintances in Germantown and Collierville where he sold cars and bought and sold houses after fixing them up. He is being deported for his association with a Palestinian group when he was a young man.

Darwishahmad, who is tall, fair-skinned, and reed-thin, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Memphis to one count of making a false statement on the I-485. He was locked up on February 26th of this year. In exchange for his plea, two other counts on his indictment were dropped and he will be immediately deported, never to return legally to the United States. Glancing backwards at his Tennessee-bred wife, who was sobbing on the back row of the courtroom, he quietly answered “yes” when U.S. district judge Jon McCalla asked him if he understood the consequences of what he was doing.

The government was prepared to show that as a teenager in Palestine, Darwishahmad was recruited by Fatah, which the U. S. government classifies as a terrorist organization. In 1990, he tossed a grenade-like bomb at a bus of Israelis and threw a Molotov cocktail at Israeli soldiers, later lying that he had only thrown rocks at them. Fatah wanted him to bomb an Israeli police station on the West Bank but he never did. At some point – the time frame is not specified in court papers and was not stated during the court hearing – he was arrested by Israeli authorities. For five years – again the time frame is unclear – he was “a Palestinian Authority military intelligence officer” in the words of the U.S. Department of Justice press release about his guilty plea.

Darwishahmad came to the United States in 2001, got married, raised a son, and did not get arrested until this year. And that is about all the government is saying about him. Why he was nabbed this year and why his hearing attracted the presence of FBI Special Agent in Charge My Harrison is not known. A spokesman declined comment.

Is Bassam Darwishahmad a trained terrorist sympathizer who hates the United States and has been secretly plotting to do something bad? Or a regular Good Neighbor Sam who was once an impressionable Palestinian teenager who picked up a discarded Coke bottle, stuffed it with a rag soaked in 50 cents worth of gasoline, and threw it at Israeli soldiers and made money as an informant to the Palestinian Authority, which is not the same as the PLO, for a few years?

Obviously, the government thinks the former, but it isn’t saying why. Immigration violations are a top priority of the Justice Department, and the Western District of Tennessee has been doing its part by netting, among others, Darwishahmad, a University of Memphis student with bogus documents and an unusual interest in airports and flying big planes, and a Syrian-American marriage scam artist.

So remember, right here in Memphis and Shelby County, the government is vigilantly watching your neighbors to keep the rest of us safe. And be careful about the forms you sign.

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