HERNDON, Va. – A groggy toddler from Morocco was reunited with his parents in the United States in the wee hours Tuesday after a separation of two years because of bureaucratic delays on his immigration papers.
Abdeloihab Boujrad, 38, a U.S. citizen originally from Morocco, and his wife Leila had been trying since June 2005 to get the necessary paperwork for their now 3-year-old son, Ahmedyassine, to join them in the U.S.
An Islamic civil rights group that took up their cause suspected the delay was caused by a similarity in Ahmedyassine's name to the founder of the Palestinian Islamic militant group Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, who was assassinated by Israel in 2004.
In June, after media reports highlighted the Boujrads' plight, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approved the paperwork allowing Ahmedyassine to immigrate.
The boy arrived Tuesday at Reagan National Airport after flying from his hometown in Morocco to Casablanca, and then on to Washington via New York.
At a news conference, Boujrad explained how his son was asleep when he got off the plane. As his parents tried to wake him, the boy opened his eyes, saw his mother and father and muttered "I must be dreaming" before falling back to sleep.
His parents roused him a second time, and his eyes opened wide. "I am with you now," the boy told his parents. "I rode three airplanes to see you."
Boujrad, who lives in Alexandria, admitted he was a little nervous that his son might not recognize him. But the family kept in touch through video hookups on the Internet and frequent telephone calls during the separation, so the faces and voices remained familiar.
"We were worried maybe he forgot us, but he was OK. He's a good kid," Boujrad said, as his son sat quietly and contentedly on his lap while he played with some new toys.
Immigration officials never explained the delay, but officials with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which advocated on the family's behalf, said they felt certain the boy's name caused the delays.
Morris Days, a legal director for CAIR's Maryland and Virginia chapter, said he is working on more than a dozen cases in which Muslims are facing unexplained delays on various immigration issues, particularly when it comes to taking their citizenship oaths.
"You can term it almost collateral damage from post-9/11," Days said. He called on federal officials to expedite other cases same way they handled the toddler's case after it was publicized.
Boujrad was living in Morocco in 1997 and engaged to Leila when he won an immigration lottery that allowed him to come to the United States. He married his wife in 1999 but was unable to bring her to the U.S. until 2005. She is now a legal permanent resident.
In the interim, Ahmedyassine was born in May 2004 in Morocco. Leila reluctantly left the boy in the care of her sister in the fall of 2005 when her visa allowing her to emigrate to the U.S. was about to expire, assuming that the paperwork problems for her son could be handled quickly.
The boy's name was a compromise between Boujrad, who preferred Yassine, and Boujrad's father, who preferred Ahmed. Boujrad said he didn't know who Sheik Ahmed Yassin was until somebody told him earlier this year that the name similarity might be causing the immigration problems.