HERNDON, Va. – It never occurred to Abdeloihab Boujrad that the U.S. government may be confusing his 3-year-old son with the former leader of an Islamic militant group.
But that's exactly what a civil rights group believes is blocking Boujrad, a U.S. citizen, from bringing the toddler from Morocco to live with him and his wife, a legal permanent resident.
Boujrad has fought unsuccessfully for more than two years to have his son join him, and the U.S. government has never explained why it has not taken action on his son's immigration application.
The boy's first name, Ahmedyassine, resembles the name of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the founder of the militant Palestinian group Hamas, who was assassinated by Israel in 2004.
Morris Days, a legal director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said many Muslims have faced unexplained delays and denials on immigration and citizenship applications since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Confusion over names is not uncommon.
But the delays in processing the application for a toddler to join his parents are unfathomable unless one assumes that Ahmedyassine's name is tripping alarms, Days said.
"He's been advised that the case is currently undergoing administrative review," he said. "What kind of administrative review can they subject a baby to?"
Boujrad, 38, of Alexandria won an immigration lottery to come to the U.S. in 1997 and obtained citizenship in 2005. During that time, he traveled to Morocco a few months a year to be with his wife, Leila, to whom he has been married since 1999 and engaged since 1997 when he won the immigration lottery.
Leila did not get her green card until 2005, after her husband became a citizen. Ahmedyassine was born May 24, 2004. When Leila Boujrad's visa allowing her to travel to the United States was about to expire in 2005, she reluctantly decided to leave the boy with her sister while the immigration issues were sorted out.
"It was a bad experience. She was crying for three days straight and sick for weeks about leaving her son," Boujrad said.
Boujrad said he did not even know who Sheik Ahmed Yassin was until a few weeks ago, when it was suggested to him that the name similarity might be causing the delays. He said the boy's name was a compromise between his father, who liked the name Ahmed, and himself, who preferred Yassine.
Even in the absence of any other explanation, Boujrad said he still can't comprehend the confusion.
"He cannot do anything. He can't hurt nobody," the soft-spoken Boujrad said. "He's doing good, but he's 3 years old now, and this is the time that they start learning everything and knowing everything. He's feeling like he's apart from us and it hurts him."
Boujrad's eyes welled up as he described the frequent phone calls and video Internet hookup he and his wife use to stay in contact with their boy. As he spoke he clutched a thick blue folder documenting his innumerable conversations with immigration bureaucrats.
Dan Kane, a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said Wednesday that the agency is looking into the matter.
Boujrad cannot appeal to immigration court because no decision has been made, Days said. His only option would be to sue in federal court to compel action on his application. Days said that is a possibility but he's hoping to deal with it on an administrative level.
Boujrad and his wife have considered returning to Morocco for good. But they hold out hope.
"Each day I open my mailbox, I think maybe today is the day that I will get my letter from immigration," he said. "But not yet."