Tuesday, June 19, 2018
News Roundup

Two Tampa Bay Coptic Christians face deportation over drug crimes

By 18, a boy should be enough of a man to direct his own life, Sam Safa reasons.

His nephews can't seem to get there. Instead, Molar and Bitar Gourgy, 18 and 20, are in jail, accused of selling marijuana. Previously, it was cocaine.

The cost of misspent youth?

The government has set the stage to deport them.

They came from Egypt at ages 5 and 7, Coptic Christians fleeing extremists in a largely Muslim nation. Soon, they were in pirate costumes at Skycrest Elementary in Clearwater, or playing soccer with schoolmates.

The boys' mother, Marit "Rita" Mansour, 46, also emigrated, leaving behind parents who have since died. Her father was an international volleyball coach; her mother, a French teacher. She hoped her sons would make something of themselves.

That was 13 years ago.

She gave up her native tongue to struggle with English, and that struggle was only the beginning. In Egypt, her family had maids and drivers. Her brother owned a jewelry store. Here, she was poor. The challenges of parenting in America overwhelmed her.

"She was not in the right state of mind to control us," Bitar Gourgy says, looking back.

The boys figured things out, but along with the language, they learned this lesson: In America, a kid could make money selling marijuana and cocaine. Neither finished high school; not Bitar at Clearwater nor Molar at Bayside.

"I care about Bitar and Molar," the mother says, face sad as she sits in a Largo apartment, a cross dangling from her neck.

"But the life here is stronger. The life is so big. One day you are good. One day you are no good. One day you are rich. One day you find no food. One day you have health. One day you are sick."

One day — April, 20, 2011 — your mother gets political asylum and you do not because you are in state prison. That was Bitar, the eldest. He served 15 months for dealing cocaine before he was arrested again this month in Tampa on the marijuana charge.

He agreed to leave the United States voluntarily by January 2012, according to immigration officials. When he didn't leave, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement obtained an order for his removal.

He waits in the Hillsborough County jail. His brother waits in the Citrus County jail, which keeps some federal detainees.

A month after the mother's asylum was granted, Molar Gourgy missed his immigration appointment, she said. He skipped meetings with an immigration lawyer, his uncle said.

The teen pleaded guilty in August to being a middleman in a marijuana distribution conspiracy. His sentencing is Nov. 6. On the day of his arrest, June 24, ICE lodged a detainer against him. He, too, is subject to removal, the agency reports.

"I was hopeful because of Egypt's situation that he would not be deported," said defense attorney Serbo Simeoni, who represents Molar Gourgy only in the marijuana case. "He believes he will not be deported."

The brothers are not conversant in Arabic, their uncle said.

News accounts this summer tell of rising attacks on Christians in Egypt. The Gourgys both have Christian religious tattoos. They still identify with their faith: The cover photo of Bitar Gourgy's Facebook page is a portrait of the crucifixion of Christ.

David Abraham, who teaches at the University of Miami School of Law, said it would help if the two could prove they were in danger of being tortured to avoid deportation.

The law is merciless about asylum requests from people with drug convictions, he said.

"They could be marched from the prison gate to the airplane ramp," he said.

When? It's unclear. ICE doesn't divulge such plans to the public.

Typically, Molar Gourgy would first complete his federal sentence. But, were he to be sentenced to "time served," immigration officials could take him into custody right away.

The marijuana charge against Bitar Gourgy has not yet progressed through Hillsborough Circuit Court.

He called his mother from the jail, crying, she said.

His calls find her in a home with a painting of Jesus on the living room wall and a candy bowl of mints, each individually wrapped in American flags.

She sits on a couch below a photo of a brother recently killed in violence in Egypt. Another brother lives in New York. A third brother lives in New Port Richey.

That brother, Safa, is also distraught by his nephews' troubles.

For years, he did what he could to help. He let the family live with his family and he worked extra hours to support everyone.

"I tried to talk them out of what they were doing," he said. "I've been called many times to the police station. I said, 'Enough is enough.' I'm one person. I have a family to take care of."

He wonders sometimes if returning to Egypt might keep the two from repeating mistakes.

They have a father there, though he doesn't keep in touch. The mother says he once knocked out her teeth.

She is frightened of what her sons would face in Egypt.

She remembers the taunts they suffered for being Christians. The younger one has a scar on his forehead. She said a Muslim man pushed him.

"How will they live?" she asked. "They don't have any language, any money, any family over there. They don't have any life over there."

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.

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