Jackson Lee welcomes Katy-area student from Jordan who was detained
A 16-year-old from Jordan stood silently midday Monday in the decorated downtown office of a Houston-area congresswoman, his hands folded in front of him.
For 20 minutes, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee spoke to media about the recent ordeals of the young man, Mohammad Abu Khadra.
A Katy-area student, Mohammad was detained in Houston at Bush Intercontinental Airport when he returned from his native country a day after President Donald Trump issued his immigration ban on Jan. 27.
The Democratic congresswoman called Mohammad an “innocent child,” explaining that he had gone home to renew the documents that allowed him to be in America. They had expired after he spent a few months living in the U.S. with his brother.
“He’s just a young man who wanted to come to the United States, as many others do,” she said.
The teenager looked every bit a part of the diverse American youth, with hair cut stylishly short on the sides and long on top. He wore a slim-fitting shirt, buttoned up to the collar, with rolled-up jeans and a big, blue wristwatch.
His brother, 37, who has lived in America for five years, stood next to him in a suit and tie.
Mohammad had been taking courses here in English as a second language, Jackson Lee said. But, because his parents in Jordan feared trouble, he spoke not a word to the press Monday, except to spell his name.
His story - which has been reported by the Houston Chronicle and other news outlets - was instead told in further detail through Jackson Lee in a small conference room.
When Mohammad came to Texas on a tourist visa a few months prior, he had no trouble, she said. He had the documents required. And when he returned to renew his paperwork, she continued, he was doing exactly what was required of him.
Landing back again in Houston, however, Mohammad had been swept up needlessly in Trump’s ban, she said, which does not even include Jordan, a longtime U.S. ally.
“They pulled him aside and kept asking him, ‘What are you doing? Where are you going? What is your business?’ ” she said. “The questions continued.”
At some point, Mohammad told authorities that he was enrolled in school.
Enrolling in public school is a violation of his visa, yet Jackson Lee explained that he was taking only ESL courses - something he perhaps had not been able to explain. Katy ISD on Monday reiterated that it could not comment on whether a person was currently enrolled. His attorney did not return a request for clarification.
Authorities sent him to Chicago. Jackson Lee personally flagged his case to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. “This is a 16-year-old and this should not have happened to him,” she said.
Because he was a minor, the case moved from the Department of Homeland Security to Health and Human Services, which eventually released him.
An HHS spokeswoman declined to comment on the young man’s case in an email, saying the agency “does not identify individual unaccompanied children” to ensure their privacy, safety and well-being.
Monday marked the first meeting between Mohammad and Jackson Lee. His attorney, who Jackson Lee said was working to continue to ensure Mohammad’s legal status here, was also present. Jackson Lee said she had wanted to give Mohammad a civics lesson so that he knew that U.S. laws - and lawmakers - could work for him, not just against him.