Surprise turns sour for Iraqi-born woman

Published April 13, 2006|Updated April 13, 2006

An Iraqi-born woman whose ex-husband was lauded by Gov. Jeb Bush as a symbol of progress in Iraq was detained at Tampa International Airport and is scheduled to be deported tonight.

Safana Jawad, 45, who lives in Spain, said federal agents told her she was barred from the entering the country because she is connected to someone they view as suspicious. She was being held in the Pinellas County jail Wednesday night.

Homeland Security Department agents refused to identify the suspicious person, Jawad said.

"It's a nightmare," Jawad said in a phone interview from the jail Wednesday afternoon. "I don't know why I'm here. I don't know why this happened. I feel like I will wake up holding my son in my arms."

It was Jawad's first trip to the United States, and she planned to surprise her 16-year-old son, Hany Kubba, who lives in Clearwater with her ex-husband, Ahmad Maki Kubba, 49.

"I expected it to be a very happy visit, and now it's like hell," said Kubba, a real estate agent. "She has done nothing, and they sent her to jail with all these criminals."

Kubba, who organized a trip to Nashville in January 2005 for about a dozen friends to vote in the Iraqi election, was recognized by Bush in his State of the State address last year.

"People often talk broadly about the importance of the fight for liberty," Bush said. "Maki shows us what it means for our friends and neighbors, both here and abroad."

Kubba, now a U.S. citizen, spent 40 days in an Iraqi prison for speaking out against Saddam Hussein and left in 1979 after he was sentenced to death. Kubba's father died during a beating by Hussein's regime, Kubba said.

Kubba's sister in Salt Lake City, Utah, called the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Tampa Wednesday to help find a lawyer for Jawad. A volunteer lawyer with the group met with Jawad Wednesday morning along with Ahmed Bedier, director of the organization's Tampa office.

"It's frustrating that innocent families are torn apart because of these types of campaigns," Bedier said Wednesday night. "It seems on the surface of it to be racial profiling rather than for security. It sends the wrong message and it hurts everything we are doing overseas."

Kubba believes his ex-wife was singled out because she wears a head scarf.

Jawad was being held in a maximum security wing of the jail, where she was booked around 8 a.m. Wednesday after she was questioned at the airport for more than six hours, Bedier said.

Zachary Mann, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection for the Southeastern U.S., declined to comment about Jawad.

He said it is standard procedure to hold someone denied entry at a jail if a return flight cannot immediately be booked.

Kubba said his ex-wife, a devout Muslim, should not be held in jail, where she had to strip naked for a full body search.

"I believe that this does not represent American values at all," Kubba said. "They are hurting this nation by doing this."