Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Lexington mom fears deportation

Left Iran in 1976, but broke rules

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — Mahin Ashki has built a family and career in the land she has called home for 25 years since leaving her native Iran.

        It may all be uprooted by a deportation order that immigration officials are ready to enforce.

        Ms. Ashki, of Lexington, says her forced removal would split her family, including her two young, American-born daughters, and put her in peril at the hands of Iran's anti-Western government.

        Ms. Ashki, 42, is to meet with immigration officials today to discuss her deportation.

        “I don't know what's going to happen,” said Ms. Ashki, choking back tears in a telephone interview Monday. “I am scared to be separated from my children and my family and my friends. This is my home.”

        Ms. Ashki said she fears torture by Iran's fundamentalist Islamic government.

        Her attorney, Ron Russell of Louisville, said her Western views would make her an easy target for persecution and torture in Iran.

        “I think they'd love to make an example of her,” he said.

        Paige Rockett, an Immigration and Naturalization Service spokeswoman, said Ms. Ashki has exhausted appeals of an immigration judge's ruling that she leave the country.

        Ms. Ashki originally was ordered deported for a sham marriage to an American in 1986, a ruse meant to gain U.S. residency.

        “The sham marriage is what is haunting her life,” Ms. Rockett said in a telephone interview from New Orleans.

        Ms. Ashki acknowledges making a mistake but says she paid her debt to society. She was given a six-month suspended jail sentence and two years probation.

        Her attorney tried to head off her deportation, filing a motion Monday asking a federal judge to stop her return to Iran. He said U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II was scheduled to hear the motion Thursday.

        Ms. Ashki, then 18, left Iran in 1976 to attend the University of Louisville.

        “My social beliefs, my political beliefs, my religious beliefs have been formed in this country,” she said.

        She was divorced from the friend she married out of convenience. She remarried in 1989, this time to an Iranian. Her husband works for the state Transportation Cabinet and is a naturalized U.S. citizen. Their daughters, 5 and 7, are unaware of the family's dire situation.

        “They have no comprehension,” Ms. Ashki said. “They think mommy is going to leave on a business trip and come back.”

        For the past decade, Ms. Ashki has been a clinical researcher working with breast cancer patients at the University of Kentucky's Markey Cancer Center.

        Ms. Rockett, spokeswoman at the INS district office that covers Kentucky and four other states, said immigration officials were simply following the immigration judge's order.

        Since the original deportation order in the 1980s, Ms. Ashki has lost numerous appeals seeking asylum and permanent residency.

        In her last failed attempt, Ms. Ashki cited a federal law allowing residency to immigrants continuously present in this country for seven years. However, Ms. Ashki returned once to Iran to visit her parents, so her application to reopen her case and suspend her deportation was denied.

        Ms. Rockett said that was the second critical mistake by Ms. Ashki. She said the Lexington woman's case appeared to be “down to the wire.”

        “It's my understanding that she has exhausted all of her appeals,” she said. “Sometimes folks think we can exercise more discretion than we can.”

        In the motion filed Monday in U.S. District Court at Louisville, Mr. Russell cited a 1998 federal law that bars sending anyone to a country where they have a reasonable fear of being tortured.

        Mr. Russell also said Iran has become more oppressive to women in recent years, and INS regulations are supposed to permit a second asylum application when conditions in a country have deteriorated.

        “The fact of banishment is one thing; banishment to a country where you could in effect suffer persecution and even torture is another matter, and that's what faces her if she returns to Iran,” Mr. Russell said.

        Immigration officials could order her deported at any time, but have given assurances they would not do so today, Mr. Russell said.

        Ms. Ashki said she was holding out hope for intervention that would allow her to remain in the country she now considers home.

        “They cannot destroy this family,” she said.


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