TAMPA — Youssef Megahed's family became U.S. citizens Friday as he sits in a South Florida detention center preparing to fight for a chance to remain in the country and gain citizenship himself.
"It would have been the happiest day of our life, except for what's happening to Youssef," said older brother Yahia, who took the oath at the Tampa Convention Center along with his parents, Samir and Ahlam Megahed.
While Youssef Megahed's family can now call this country home, the U.S. government wants nothing to do with him.
Deportation proceedings begin Monday near Miami against the former University of South Florida student who was acquitted on explosives charges at a federal trial in Tampa.
"On Monday, we will be fighting this same entity for the freedom of my brother," said Yahia Megahed, 26.
From the swearing-in ceremony, the Megahed family returned to their Tampa Palms home to pack and prepare to drive to Miami for the legal battle.
"In my heart, I am deeply sad because Youssef filled his application in the same day," said Samir Megahed, 62. "He is more qualified to take the citizenship more than me. He loves America."
A federal jury in Tampa acquitted Youssef Megahed, 23, on April 3 of illegally transporting explosive materials and illegally possessing a destructive device. He could have received 10 years in prison on each charge if he had been convicted.
His future remains unclear.
Megahed's sister, Mariam, 21, is scheduled to take her citizenship exam Sept. 10 — the birthday of her 12-year-old brother, Yassien. The law allowed Yassien to become a citizen when his parents did Friday.
"My happiness will not be complete until Youssef comes to celebrate with us in the same occasion," Samir Megahed said.
Ramzy Kilic, executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations Tampa Chapter, called Youssef Megahed's detention frustrating. But he said others should be encouraged by the family's resilience.
"Youssef knows he's innocent, and he's going to fight this until the end," Kilic said.
The Megaheds visited the United States from their native Egypt for the first time in 1996. They spent three months traveling the country as tourists and visited Las Vegas, New York City, San Diego, Atlanta and other major cities.
Youssef Megahed fell in love with the U.S., his father said.
"He asked me, 'Can we come and live in this country?' " the dad said.
So they did.
The family won a lottery for a green card on the first try. Family members have lived in the United States as legal permanent residents for more than 10 years.
Samir Megahed said he hopes to remain here with his entire family for many more.
"They give us this citizenship and they want to deport him. They want to separate the family. They want to destroy the family," he said. "We came as a family. We want to live as a family and complete our life."
Kevin Graham can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3433.